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106 celebrate achievement at Lancaster County Community High School Equivalency commencement

06/18/2018 Lancaster Online By Junior Gonzalez

This isn’t your typical graduation.

More than 100 students from all walks — and stages — of life walked across the platform of the McCaskey East auditorium to boisterous encouragement Thursday night for the Lancaster County High School Equivalency commencement.

“Make a living with what you learn, but make a difference in how you live,” Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 Executive Director Brian Barnhart said to the 106 students at the start of the ceremony.

The event is a ceremony for students who undertook exams and studies toward their High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) certificate at the IU13, the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon, Milagro House, and Arbor Education and Training centers within the county.

The event’s keynote speaker, IU13 Applications Developer Margie Morales, spoke of her success story after attaining her HiSET certificate — then known as a GED — in the early 1990s.

“I was a dropout and I felt less than,” she said, but decided to “make a commitment” to herself and complete her secondary education.

Morales would pour over a thick study book after putting her then-baby daughter to sleep each night, she said, and eventually saved up the money to take, and pass, her high school equivalency exams. Over the next 20 years, she attained post-secondary degrees from HACC and Elizabethtown College.

“Never forget the fire of your perseverance,” Morales told graduates.

Common theme

Achieving one’s goals, no matter how long, appeared to be a common theme throughout the ceremony.

For Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Mary Keim, it took just over a year’s time to attain her certification, while Outstanding Dedication Award recipient Lori Brown worked for five.

However, few matched the time gap from high school dropout to HiSET graduate like Dennis Wolpert, who took 49 years to reach the milestone.

He walked across the stage Thursday night without a cap and gown — which he called an unnecessary one-time expense — and without the support of friends and family, whom he didn’t tell.

“It was just a personal thing,” the 67-year-old said about his studies.

Wolpert dropped out of Columbia High School in 1969 after an unspecified incident prompted him to “walk out the door and never look back.”

He said his career as a truck driver helped him to get by without a degree, but added the job market has, and will continue, to change rapidly.

“You’re going to need that (diploma) 25-30 years from now,” Wolpert said.

For Rafaelina Ruiz of Lancaster, she needed her certificate now.

“I did this for my kids and for myself,” the 20-year-old former McCaskey student said.

She said it meant a lot to her to be able to provide a better upbringing for her two daughters, Gihanna Matos, 19 months, and Riann, born just two weeks before graduation.

Several program administrators who attended the ceremony said it is their favorite event of the year, including IU13 Program Director Timothy Shenk.

“You can see the passion in their faces,” he said. “The barriers so many of these students have gone through to be here is just so inspiring.”

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