Graduates Christopher Sartell, Jacob Gilcreast, Cassandra Freitas, Michael DeRienzo, Katie Daw, Maverick Chapdelaine and Taryn Beard turned their tassels around at the conclusion of Wednesday evening's Adult Education commencement ceremony. Another graduate, Eric Pelland, was unable to attend the ceremony. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
Futures in focus for Londonderry adult ed graduates
Regardless of how the eight young people honored at Wednesday evening's Londonderry Adult Education commencement ceremony arrived there, however, all found much reason to hope for the future.
The alternative education program, which is held during the evening at the high school, has proven a lifesaver to struggling students from Londonderry and surrounding towns since its inception nine years ago.
For Hudson resident Cassandra Freitas, earning a high school diploma was about becoming a person her young son could look up to.
Already a troubled young adult, Freitas was 17 when she learned she was pregnant. She dropped out of traditional high school soon after.
But following the birth of her son, the determined young woman knew she had to persevere.
"I wanted things to be better for his sake," Freitas said. "When he gets older and finds himself having trouble in high school, I want him to look at me and say, 'Well, if she can do it, I sure can.'"
Her path was paved with challenges. When she enrolled in the program in fall 2011, Freitas had earned fewer than two high school credits.
But she credits her supportive friends, family and teachers for being with her every step of the way.
"He looked at me as a person, not as a delinquent," Freitas said of program director Greg Warren. "Now I tell people to never give up."
Warren lauded the recent graduates for tackling their troubles head on.
"The challenges you've faced have made you all the stronger," he said. "Each of you came here with your own unique circumstances and you never know what others have experienced in their lives."
Londonderry Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said the students' struggles aren't unlike the struggles faced by the immigrants of bygone days who braved the unknown to forge a nation.
"I think the word here is 'choice,'" he said. "Like them, all of you have made a choice that hasn't always been the easiest path. And like them, you will go on to create positive and successful lives for yourselves."
Teacher Alan LaBranche said his nontraditional students never fail to inspire him.
"I have confidence in all of you," he told the graduates.
Since the program's inception, Londonderry's Adult Education program has reached students well beyond Londonderry.
William Hicks, a guidance councilor at Campbell High School in Litchfield, said he's seen around 30 Litchfield students complete the program over the years.
"These are people who never would have gotten their high school diplomas if it weren't for this program," Hicks said.
His advice for the graduates?
"When you're looking down, it's pretty hard to think of anything but the past," Hicks said. "But if you look upwards, that's when you can focus on the future. And the future can be your best friend."
This winter's graduates were: Taryn Ashley Beard, Tracy Daniel Burke, Maverick James Chapdelaine, Katie Lynn Dawe, Michael Angelo DeRienzo, Cassandra Louise Freitas, Eric Paul Pelland and Christopher John Sartell.