'It's never too late! If I can do it, anyone can.'

The 138 graduates of Jones County Junior College’s High School Equivalency program are the second group of graduates to earn their HSE with the state’s revised HSE curriculum.

As of July 2016, the state approved two new HSE tests, the HI SET and the Test of Adult Secondary Completion or TASC in addition to the widely recognized GED test. All three tests lead to earning a High School Equivalency diploma however, the new and revised tests are more rigorous giving graduates an extra reason to celebrate completing the program.

“The High School Equivalency Credential is not the finish line for our students but the starting point for their future. We are celebrating this major achievement tonight but have encouraged all to also take advantage of the open doors this will provide them. These graduates now have educational and employment opportunities not previously available to them,” JCJC Adult Education Director Michael Yarbrough said.

Graduates Barbara Craft of Seminary and Yolanda McGlaston of Bay Springs both dropped out of school about 30 years ago. McGlaston said she was “young and foolish” for leaving school in eighth grade, but she has always been determined to get her diploma.

“This is so special to me,” said the mother of two girls. “Math is my worst subject but when the scores came back, mine was the highest! The Lord helped me and I’ve learned I have to motivate myself.”

Craft said her husband Mitchell’s support helped her get through school. The 49-year-old explained she struggled to raise three kids after dropping out of school in the 10th grade. However, she wanted to help raise her grandkids before returning to school.

“It’s never too late! If I can do it, anyone can,” said Craft, who also earned her Certified Nurse Assistant’s degree through the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST) program. “I plan on continuing my education at Jones this fall.”

Nineteen additional graduates also finished extra training through the MIBEST program after completing their High School Equivalency tests. The highest scoring seven graduates received a financial boost through scholarships. Graduates earning scholarships from JCJC’s eight county district included Covington County scholarship recipient, Jamie Allen Owens of Mt. Olive. The Greene County scholarship recipient is Trevor Alex Dueitt of Lucedale. Britney Nicole Parke of Bay Springs received the Jasper County Scholarship. Ellisville’s Michael Vincent Wade Lovett was awarded the Jones County Scholar- ship. Bryana Michelle Clark of Richton earned the Perry County Scholarship. The Smith County Scholarship went to Baker Donnell Sims of Taylorsville and Peyton Walker of Waynesboro was awarded the Wayne County Scholarship. Because Walker also had the overall top score amongst all graduates, V.P. of Advancement and Executive Director of the JCJC Foundation Inc. Charlie Garretson awarded Walker with an additional $500 scholarship.

“I can’t believe it! I thought it was a mistake when he called my name!” said Walk- er, who battles severe anxiety.

“When I hit my teenage-years, I had a tremendous amount of anger inside me that I just didn’t know what to do with ... I started being rebellious ... The thing is, none of the hard things or the abuse I’ve endured in my childhood, none of that was my fault and I feel like I didn’t get the same chance as other kids,” said Hernandez.

At 15, he dropped out of school and started hanging out with the “wrong crowd,” which eventually led to being kicked out of the house. Three years later, his life began to change.

“When I gave myself to the Lord, my life turned around just like that. No more addictions, no more parties, no more chasing girls, chasing fights, and I was just 18 years old ... I realized that I have to do something for myself. I didn’t want to end up in a dead end job, doing something I hated every day.”

While getting a Costa Rican GED in a rough part of town, Hernandez met his missionary wife, Ashli from Ellisville. He had hoped to begin college classes to be a car builder when he arrived at JCJC, but Hernandez learned he would have to get an American High School Equivalency before he could work towards his dream to be a car builder.

“Most people here say you aren’t going to make any money. It’s a cool hobby but you won’t make money. Guess where I work now? I’m a car builder. That’s pretty cool and I make a living. I drive an hour and 15 minutes with a smile on my face because I love what I do,” said Hernandez, who is a custom car builder at Mike Goldman’s Custom Cars Inc.

“... You were made for a purpose and I don’t think stopping at a high school diploma is it. I think you were made for greater things. This is the greatest country on Earth! You have the world at your disposal. If you want to be a chef, you better be the best chef on Earth. Let’s make Mississippi great ... With faith in God and perseverance, we’ll make it.”

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