Lots of ‘Pomp’ at graduation

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Teresa Malone, the new executive director of the Adult Education Center of Durango, moved to Durango 10 years ago with her family. She spoke Thursday to the center’s 2013 GED diploma spring graduates at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

Going back to face algebra as an adult? No thanks, even though I was pretty good at math – it’s just been a long time as my upcoming 40th high school reunion can attest.

So I really get how much courage, perseverance and support it takes to improve one’s life by earning a GED diploma. On Thursday, 43 graduates who earned theirs through classes at the Adult Education Center of Durango entered the Twilight Room at the Durango Community Recreation Center to the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

An important point to make right about now is that 40 percent of seniors graduating from high school nationally cannot pass the five GED tests, which says something not so great about how we’re teaching our children and something pretty impressive about these graduates.

Every single grad had a story, although this year none of the students felt compelled to tell their journeys to earning their GED diplomas, with all the trials, tribulations and obstacles, at the ceremony. (That’s usually my favorite part.) It was a shame, because those stories put a personal face on statistics such as dropout rates, teen pregnancies and juvenile run-ins with the law.

But keynote speaker and former Durango Mayor Michael Rendon, now the environmental steward director at Southwest Conservation Corps, got it right when he said, “Every story is different. You’ve been incarcerated or are currently incarcerated, have one parent or no parents, or have been parenting your parents, spent your childhoods moving around so you could never settle in and get an education – whatever your story, you have shown resilience and perseverance to get here, and you are my heroes.”

And regardless of the lack of stories told out loud, the unabashed pride on their faces told a story of its own, about studying and achieving despite working two jobs, raising young children and dealing with all the stresses of daily life including trying to survive economically in Durango without a high school diploma.

Those who did speak heaped high praise on the teachers and staff at the Adult Education Center for helping them achieve this long-dreamed-of goal.

So before I get to the graduates, let’s start with that staff: new Executive Director Teresa Malone (more on her in the next item); Associate Director Jenny Bruell; business and finance manager Kathy Rush; community relations and community education coordinator Kelly Quach; child care director Patricia Ey (because it’s tough to get an education without reliable child care); Early Childhood Training Project coordinator Barbara Dodds; Del Alma program coordinator Renee Atencio; GED test examiner Rich Hoehlein; GED registrar and programs assistant Tracy Akers; program coordinator for the Adult Basic Education and GED programs and teacher Stephanie Moran; Adult Basic Ed and GED teachers Nan Uhl and Mary Mullen; GED teacher and reading specialist Victoria Collette; ABE/GED and La Plata County Jail teachers Charlie Love and Sue Petranek; and the English for Speakers of Other Languages gang, teachers and program co-coordinators Sarah Macy Brown and Libby Baumchen; ESOL teachers Maggie Bowes and Andrée Stetson; and ESOL and GED teacher Christine Rasmussen. Wow, it really does take a village.

(Adult Basic Education is for those folks who come in with a seventh-grade education or below in reading and mathematics, so it gets their basic skill sets to a level where they can begin the actual preparation for the GED tests in reading, writing, social studies science and mathematics.)

With 43 graduates, I don’t have space to name them all, but I want to mention the National Adult Education Honor Society inductees, winners of the 3000 Club Academic Award (top 16 percent in the country) and scholarship recipients. Accepted to both the Honor Society and 3000 Club were Ryan Bennett, Samuel Holt-Hostetler, Kinjah Monroe, Nadine Ontiveros, Pierre Rochat and Jesse Walker.

Three P.E.O. chapters gave scholarships, Chapter BR to Adriana Ramirez, Chapter CS to Mariah Diaz and Chapter FX to Erika Graciano. The Durango Emblem Club awarded its scholarship to Ramirez; Helen James, who founded the center, gave a scholarship to Jeffrey Pickering; and the center’s board gave some funding to Jeremy Harmon.

The Pickering family had a lot to celebrate. Jeffrey Pickering’s aunt, Jamie Pickering, earned her GED diploma through the Durango Adult Education Center in 1995 and went on to graduate from Fort Lewis College. She works as a phlebotomist for the Veterans Affairs clinic and volunteers as an emergency medical technician with the Los Pinos Fire Protection District. So now they’re a two-generation GED family.

And Jeffrey’s brother, Jesse Pickering, graduated from Durango High School the next night. The two young men are the sons of Laura Carman.

I’ve always thought we ought to do away with the term graduation and instead use the word commencement. Rendon reminded those ready to receive their diplomas, and those there to cheer them on, that this is just the beginning. He, along with the rest of us, can’t wait to see where their next step in the journey takes them.

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Wishing for no more wildfires as they blow out their birthday candles are Richard Jung, Jan Colomb, Monique Monson, Robert Anderson, Shannon Bassett, Karaline Bassett, Betsy Williams, Della Johnson, Audra Krull, Paige Krull, Karen Johnson, Ruth Wagner, Avery Begg, Julie Downs, Mary Lou Hall, Lina Hoffner, Garrett Jones, Drew Lewis, Sandra Mapel, Kathy Stottlemeyer, Barbara Corrigan, Muriel Mulder, David Wells Jr., Dony Goodwin, Kim Pierce, Randy Hatcher, Will Connelly, Ment Goehring, Mary Helen Watkins, Linnea Close, Karen Johnson, June Mason, Shane Benjamin, Dan Steaves, Shannon Nelson, Char Day, Cahlie Bartel, Cassie Bartel and Lukas Markley.

Special birthday greetings go to two of my favorite people, Scott Hagler and Deb Barnes.

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The Adult Education Center of Durango has had a new leader at the helm for a few months, and the graduation gave me a chance to get to know her.

Maryland native Teresa Malone cut her teeth in the nonprofit world with the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, a well-regarded California nonprofit, before she and her family moved to Durango 10 years ago. She has worked as a nonprofit consultant for a number of organizations, with stints at Southwest Colorado Community College in noncredit workforce skills training and as the finance director for the Mountain Studies Institute.

Now she’s having fun focusing on one nonprofit she cares deeply about with its myriad challenges, including coming up with about $950,000 a year to run the programs in one of only two states in the nation that doesn’t fund adult education.

But it has taken only a few months for Malone to notice how committed the staff and teachers are, and how welcoming and nonjudgmental they make the Adult Education Center for its students, from setting food out in the mornings to make sure everyone is nourished and ready to learn to supporting students through tough times and setbacks.

In her spare time, she enjoys anything outside – hiking and biking in the summer, cross country skiing and snowboarding in the winter – and “creating beauty,” she says, by gardening and sewing. We’re on the same page as avid readers.

She and her husband, Eric, who is the general manager of The Payroll Department, have two teenage sons and enjoy spending time together.

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Wedding bells rang in a June either long ago or not so much for Dan and Kim Osby, Kenny and Michelle Schranko, Dick and Margie Hanlin, Phil and Leticia Rambo, Jerry and Jane Maxey and Gary and Jan Scott.

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Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

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