It's often a ceremony that is overlooked when it comes to graduation ceremonies. There are college ceremonies, kindergarten, middle and high school ceremonies, as well as many others. GED graduation ceremonies, in contrast, are rarely said in the same breath as the others. Yet over 20 individuals received their GED (graduate equivalent diploma) May 31 at Williams Coconino Community College (CCC).
Former Director of Adult Education Don Keding, who oversees the Williams area, said the program is open to almost everyone. Keding retired from his duties June 30.
"We are open to anybody 16-years or older who wants to get their GED. They come to our program. We give them a series of tests to find out how close they are, what they need to work on and then we set up an individual study class," Keding said. "They're not classes in the sense that everybody is sitting in a chair looking at one teacher (and) learning about one subject. It's more a self study program, but we are there to answer any questions, to help them get started on the studies, to help them understand what they need to do to get their GED. More recently, research has shown that that's not enough, that what we need to do is get people more involved with goals - why they want their GED."
Employment opportunities jump by a factor of around 30 percent for students who have completed their GED from those who do not have a high school diploma, according to Keding. He cautioned, however, that attaining a GED is not something that happens overnight.
"The same reasons that people drop out of high school (is) sometimes the reasons why they don't follow through to get their GED," he said.
Keding added that the GED graduation ceremonies work like high school and college graduations.
"There's a mix in the ages of people. But the success stories are a lot more earthy. In a sense that, like the last graduation, somebody got up and said, 'Here I am, mom! I got it! I'm sober, drug free. With your support I did it!' Those are the kinds of stories we get. They're a little more touching in some cases. We have caps and gowns; we have the whole nine yards. Anybody who has gotten a GED and never had a ceremony is more than welcome to come and have a ceremony, because what we like to do is we like to have people get up and tell their stories"
"Chantelle (Ottens) was a case in point, (she's) very, very bright. There was no reason in the world why she couldn't have done well in high school from an intelligence standpoint. I don't know why, but that was just not for her. She came in, I gave her the test and said, 'you know what? Basically, all we need to do for you is give you a review.'"
Ottens, 18, went on to score in the top 20 percent when she took her GED test. She said she was happy with the GED program.
"They told me I scored pretty high," Ottens said. "It feels really good. I'm glad I graduated."
She said she would often get bored with "traditional" high school classes.
"I felt liked the teachers talked too much about themselves. They didn't let you get your work done, so there was always a lot of homework. They wouldn't let me challenge classes. So I just finally decided I wanted to go get my GED," said Ottens. "I always had straight A's."
Ottens currently works as a provider for the mentally and physically disabled at Camp Civitan in Williams. The Williams Alliance recently honored her for her work at the Williams Elementary- Middle School for her help with students. Ottens said she plans to continue her education now that she has received her GED.
"I'm going to start college at the end of August at Coconino Community. In a couple of years I hope to go to NAU or ASU. I haven't made up my mind yet," Ottens said. "I'm thinking about being a teacher."
Keding said there are a number of misconceptions when it comes to students who have or are seeking a GED.
"The first misconception is that the GED isn't as good as the high school diploma," Keding said. "That's not true. The GED is accepted at universities. In fact the GED is accepted where some community colleges may not be. The other misconception is, and I have heard this from state legislators, is 'Why didn't they take advantage of this the first time around?' My answer to that is that they live in Arizona, which has the lowest dollars per student in the entire United States and secondly there is a variety of reasons why someone may not finish high school. There are social reasons, there are many other reasons, and a good percentage of our students are in their 30s, 40s. We recently had a 50-year-old graduate, a grandma. There are all sorts of reasons why people are in a GED class."
Keding said the GED is only one of the services provided by the Williams CCC campus.
"It's called adult basic education/adult secondary education. It's not just GED preparation. Anybody who wants to improve their reading and writing or basic education, mathematics for example, are welcome. The classes are free, but by far the greater percentage of our students say, 'I want to get my GED,'" Keding said. "Our program used to be strictly a county program through the superintendent of school's office. In the last two years the program, along with several others in Coconino County, have all consolidated under the CCC. Now all of our classes, in Williams, are at the community college. We always say it's better to stay in high school if you can, unless there's some real strong reason. What we are all about is offering an opportunity for people who missed the opportunity to get their high school diploma, to get back into the system."
The test costs $75, according to Keding, though the CCC also offers the first three credits free to students who wish to continue their education. For more information on GED preparedness call the Williams campus of Coconino Community College at (928) 635-1325. Classes meet Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The college is closed Fridays.