GED graduation

Adult Education Center does the hard work behind special day

After the commencement address and before the graduates can move their tassels from the right to the left, Durango Adult Education Center’s executive director Paulette Church gives the graduates a chance to go to the lectern to speak to the room full of family, friends and community members. Some take her up on it.

It’s a moment when those who have attended one of the GED graduations hold their breath. The stories, usually briefly told, can be shockingly poignant.

Commencement Friday evening for 19 students was no different.

“I’m 51,” a graduate said, and he named the cancer he dealt with and said that it was now in remission. He did not have as much physical strength as he used to, he said, but he was looking forward to taking his GED diploma into the workforce.

Another student said that now with her GED diploma she would look into continuing her education, something that is easy to do with Southwest Colorado Community College, if that’s her choice, offering classes in the same building with the GED program.

Then, a young women began by saying she never thought that she would need a GED program, that she had enjoyed high school and been a good student. Then, she said, in her senior year she became pregnant.

Now, with her GED diploma, she said, she was resuming her education plans and would be entering SWCCC’s nursing program. She spoke with such candor and confidence that everyone in the room knew she would succeed.

At some recent commencements, one or two jail inmates who have earned their GED diplomas were permitted to attend, while escorted. That is a tribute to La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard. Receiving a diploma to the applause of family and friends makes it even more likely their accomplishment will have a positive effect.

Church is retiring in the next few weeks, after 14 years as executive director of the Durango Adult Education Center. In those years she has built a strong program, one that meshes nicely with what a traditional school district delivers and with what can come next at either two- or four-year institutions. In the commencement audience Friday were Durango School District 9-R’s superintendent, Daniel Snowberger, and Norm Jones, the newly named dean for SWCCC’s La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties’ class offerings.

There is more to the linkage that Church has encouraged: Connie Jacobs, who was a full-time faculty member at San Juan College in Farmington, chairs the Adult Education Center’s board of directors. Among the board members are former 9-R superintendent Mary Barter, former Fort Lewis College faculty member Joe Colgan, and Vicki Romero Coe, who has done so much educationally for the Hispanic community in La Plata County.

The best education occurs when professionals at many levels are involved.

Church is credited with expanding the Adult Education Center’s off-site class offerings, for example to Silverton, and with being imaginative in linking with other nonprofit organizations as resources. “Partners,” is what she created.

Church delivered the commencement address Friday, urging the graduates to “care, believe, work and dream.” They listened intently.

Theresa Malone is the Durango Adult Education Center’s incoming executive director. She has been with the San Juan Mountains Association.

Church and Malone will overlap for a few weeks to provide continuity in leadership. When you see Paulette, thank her heartily for the lives that she has influenced. As she said to the graduates, a GED diploma can open doors to new opportunities and choices.