05/10/13 — Graduation payoff

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Graduation payoff

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 10, 2013 1:46 PM

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Trudie Renell Alford, right, receives her General Education Development, or GED, diploma at Wayne Community College Thursday night. Ms. Alford had planned to graduate with her son, who died in a car accident a few years ago, so she carried his picture to honor his memory.

When Trudie Alford was handed her high school diploma Thursday evening at Wayne Community College, it represented more than 15 months worth of work.

She had kept a promise to her son.

"He used to joke about me going back to school," she said, recalling her own difficult decision to drop out of school.

"I had chores to do, so I didn't go to school like I wanted. The older I got, I always wanted to but I never did."

Then her son, Donale Deviner, also dropped out of school. But he soon realized the importance of a high school education.

"He'd always say, 'Mama, we're going to go back to school. We're going to class together. Then I can call you your real name and you can't get mad,'" she said with a laugh.

The 25-year-old began attending a community college, but was killed in a car accident in 2010.

"I have his test scores that came in the mail after he passed and I never opened them," she said.

Determined to fulfill the promise she'd made, Ms. Alford, now 46, enrolled at WCC.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought it was," she says now. "The math, now that was something. It was a process. But it was well worth it. I would tell anybody, if you haven't done it, it's not too late."

As her classmates lined up for the processional, the emotions began to stir, as Ms. Alford took in the occasion.

But she was ready. And she would graduate with her son.

In her hand, she carried a picture of Donale.

"I kept it. I kept my promise," she said, proudly.

The commencement ceremony recognized 47 Adult High School graduates from the college program and another 292 General Educational Development, or GED, diploma recipients.

Two speakers were chosen this year, officials said, one from each of the programs represented.

Omar Zamorano-Escobedo, a GED recipient, had to drop out of school at 16 when he became a father.

Since arriving at WCC, though, he has had an impressive, albeit short, run. Officials said it took him only a month and a half to take and pass all five parts of the GED test, scoring 3,600 out of 4,000 and earning him status in the top 1 percent of all testers worldwide. He has aspirations to eventually attend law school.

He told the audience part of his drive and determination came from his mother, who left Mexico to create a better life for her children.

"Tonight, I honor my mother's courage, my father's encouragement, my wife's love and the loyalty of my friends," he said. "I'd like to remind you all to find your American dream and pursue it to the ends of the world. Don't give up. Don't slow down. Tonight is a milestone in your life on your journey to success."

Asia Thomas, the speaker representing the Adult High School program, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. In June 1998, she learned she lacked just one credit and would not be able to graduate. So she got a job instead. But it wasn't until she moved to Goldsboro to be closer to her mother in 2011 that she made the decision to complete the requirements for a diploma.

"Almost two years and four months ago, I decided to stop allowing myself and other people to hinder me from achieving my dreams," she said, sharing her plan to go even further. "My next step was to begin my curriculum classes so I changed my major and ... recently finished my first semester and am about to begin my second toward my associate degree in business administration and management."

Arron Dent, 17, a GED diploma recipient, just needed a change of location. She said she struggled in high school with the large classes, but found in the WCC program she could work independently.

"It made me more persistent," she said, crediting her mother, friends and family with encouraging her along the way.

"I'm excited. It feels so unreal," she said. "I feel like this has done a lot for me."

She completed the program several months ago and has since started cosmetology classes at Miller-Motte in Fayetteville.

"Now that I'm finished the (high school) program, I'm bringing him into it," she said, gesturing to her boyfriend, Dakwan Bizzell.

"I'm very proud of her," he said. "She's just worked so hard to get it. Now she finally got it."

GED student Kendra Watkins was an example to her "auntie," Glenda Parks of Goldsboro, who enrolled this year.

"She inspired me to go here," Ms. Parks said. "I'm a grandma. I'm going to inspire my grandchildren like she inspired me.

"I'm about to cry, because she just inspired me. I always wanted to graduate with a cap and gown."

Such stories are common, said Michael McRae, a math instructor, who says it is rewarding to be part of the program.

"My big thing is about work ethic," he said. "We try to teach them from the bottom up -- just teaching them how to learn, because a lot of them, they don't learn how to study.

"I just enjoy it. It's the payoff of teaching them to believe in themselves and helping them learn."