David Rivera was a junior in high school when he dropped out of school. His wife, Iris, was just a freshman. More than 30 years later, the Hoffman Estates couple will finally don their long-awaited cap and gown at Harper College's GED graduation ceremony.
"I didn't want to leave this earth without getting my degree," David, 50, said. "We want to better our lives, and without a high school diploma, there's not a whole lot you can do."
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More than 75 students are expected to walk – an increase of nearly 50 percent over last year, when the College held its first formal GED graduation in two decades. The ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, June 20, in the Performing Arts Center on Harper's main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road in Palatine.
Maria Knuth, Associate Professor in the Academic Enrichment & Engagement (AEE) program at Harper, teaches the math portion of the GED course. She said the GED graduation is especially rewarding because of the students' diverse backgrounds.
"It's a different type of ceremony because the stories are so much more personal and the hurdles that our students have had to get across to achieve this huge milestone," Knuth said. "We're all so excited for them."
In addition to focusing on the common core standards, Harper's GED curriculum includes a unique bridge program that provides a smooth transition from GED coursework to college-level classes, with a goal of preparing the students for higher education or specific careers in health care or 21st century jobs in technical trades like HVAC. The College also offers several scholarships to help provide assistance to GED students transitioning into college classes. Nearly 65 percent of the graduates already have finished or are enrolled in a college-level class at Harper, Knuth said, because of the program's focus on helping them with the transition to higher education and career success.
David and Iris Rivera will be among those continuing their studies. Iris, 47, plans on earning her Certified Nursing Assistant credential and then studying nursing. David will work toward an electrical engineering certificate that will allow him to test for a promotion at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Two of the Riveras' children will also be Harper students in the fall.
"They'll probably pretend they don't know us if we ever run into each other, but that's OK because I know how proud they are," David said. "I hope others know they can do this, too. It's not easy with work and family, but it's worth it in the end."