The storming skies, torrential rains and booming thunder did not deter students who gathered to receive their GEDs last night in the 33rd Annual Education Exchange Graduation Ceremony held at the Prout School.
Students adorned in scarlet red caps and gowns marched down the center aisle to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance in traditional graduation form to receive GED diplomas and tell their stories of adversity overcome.
Attended by board members, staff, friends and family, the ceremonies grew emotional at times, with some students having waited several decades to receive a diploma granting them the freedom to attend college and gain progress in the workforce.
U.S. Congressman James Langevin attended the ceremonies, and addressed the graduating class. His speech, backdropped by thunderstorms rocking the auditorium, had a central theme of victory and personal achievment. Looking out upon the class of adult education students, diversified in age and background, Langevin provided words of encouragement.
"I know that many of you have overcome great obstacles to get here today. I also believe that one's education knocks down barriers and can help open up doors that would otherwise remain locked. I know that my education helped me to achieve my goals."
Not a night for politics and agendas, Langevin graciously thanked the assembly for including him. Bringing applause and cheers with his closing remarks, the congressman ushered the graduating class forward.
"This is about you. Find out what your abilities are and use them to change the world. I see great things in your future."
Several honored students shared individual tales of struggles faced and challenges conquered in getting to the stage last evening. Norman Acciado of North Kingstown, an outspoken advocate of the Education Exchange, its programs and staff, took to the podium.
Telling his story, riddled with the daily strifes of mental health concerns, homelessness and despair, Norman offered thanks to those who supported his efforts to succeed. "A great big thank you to all who have helped me. You all will have an everlasting spot in my mind and on my heart. I am eternally grateful."
Norman will be attending the Community College of Rhode Island where he hopes to earn a degree in education, working with special education children.
Peggy Benz, Executive Director, familiar not only with the educational challenges faced by her students, but the very real and personal struggles they faced to earn a degree, called the role as each individual received a degree, with either humble gratitude or fist-pumping dance.