The graduates of this year’s Learn to Earn Program at Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) talked about the immense challenges that many of them had to overcome as they made their way towards officially getting their GED, which they received in a ceremony Saturday morning at Cranston East.
Makayla James, who graduated from the Kent County youth center of CCAP, spoke to the large crowd of family, friends, and supporters about the struggles of becoming a mother at the age of 14 and raising her child by herself all while going to school and working full-time. The toughness forced her to drop out of school, but she decided that she would need her GED to pursue her future, and enrolled in the CCAP program.
“Enrolling in CCAP was by far the best decision I’ve made,” she said.
Now, she’s enrolled in college and is in the process of becoming a shift leader at Dunkin Donuts to help support herself and her child.
Ariel Perez, of the Providence youth center, talked about his own familial hardships on route to getting his GED this year at the age of 25. Perez was born in Puerto Rico, he said, and didn’t learn to speak English until the age of 6.
“I was ripped away from my mother in 2009,” he told the crowd. “I got expelled from school and was homeless for a while.”
Despite his tough experiences, he found CCAP and through continuing his education has joined the Emerging Leaders program, where he is being trained in the corporate world and hopes to pursue a career in business.
“Look forward to tomorrow, even if yesterday was the worst day you can remember,” Perez advised his classmates, adding that they should “be the best at everything you do.”
Betheny Williams, who received her GED after attending the Pawtucket youth center, broke down crying as she spoke to the crowd, detailing how she became pregnant as a senior in her high school and had to work at McDonald’s, eventually dropping out of school after not getting as many credits as she needed.
“That summer was mixed with confusion and depression,” she said.
Although she felt down and out, she eventually started thinking about her future, she said, and “actually went to class” after getting accepted for daycare last year.
“I procrastinated long enough and wasn’t going to allow time to keep passing me by,” Williams said. “I just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I couldn’t let Cashmere [her child] down.”
While the student speakers talked about the hardships they’d overcome to finally get to this point, and reveled in doing so, the honorary speakers at the graduation ceremony, which included Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon, gave advice on what to do next.
“That diploma is your ticket to a bright future,” said Fung, who said he’s been a proud supporter of all of CCAP’s programs during his time as Mayor. “No matter what you do and where you go, you gave yourself that ticket to opportunity by putting in the extra effort that all of you have done by getting here today.”
He also pointed out the struggles some of them have had in getting to this point.
“Many of you have lived different life stores, and working hard to complete this program means you’ve knocked down a great barrier that has in many instances been a hurdle to achieving many of your goals and dreams.”
Solomon, who had the students stand up and applaud their family and friends during his speech for all the support they gave, left the graduates with a poignant piece of advice.
“Don’t become so obsessed with making a living that you forget to make a life,” he said.
Joanne McGonagle, the president and CEO of CCAP, talked about the partnerships they’ve fostered in Cranston, Warwick, Providence, and Pawtucket, which have allowed so many graduates to attain their GEDs this year.
“I can’t tell you how proud we are of all your accomplishments,” she told the graduates. “Your hard work has gotten you to this point and you now know that there’s nothing you can’t do. Don’t stop here, keep going, and know that CCAP will always be there if you need us.”
The Learn to Earn program at CCAP is open to youth ages 14-24 and operates in Cranston, Kent County, Providence, and Pawtucket.