There was standing room only at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch, where family, friends, Brookdale staff, and community members gathered to support participants of Brookdale’s Adult Basic Education Commencement and Achievement Awards Ceremony. This milestone event symbolized academic and personal success for the more than 300 students who completed, or advanced in, the English as a Second Language (ESL) or General Educational Development (GED) programs.
Carl DeJura, director of Brookdale’s Adult Basic Education program, welcomed guests to the annual event and served as the emcee for the ceremony. “We are happy to have all of you join us this evening to celebrate the accomplishments of our students,” said DeJura.
“Tonight we honor individuals who, despite experiencing tremendous hardships, have persevered and are an inspiration to us all,” said GED student Erica Saldarini, one of the student speakers at the ceremony. Saldarini illustrated her personal hardships and victories while sharing her story with the audience. She moved to the United States from Uruguay, South America with her family when she was nine years old. Adapting to life in a new country was difficult, and their struggles intensified when her stepfather began using drugs and depleted their savings account. Her mother stopped working in the midst of battling depression. Saldarini was forced to leave high school at the age of sixteen, and started working at a local pizzeria in order to provide for the family. “I loved school,” Saldarini stated, “but the survival of my family rested solely on my shoulders.”
Saldarini continued to work at a variety of different jobs. Her ambition and strong work ethic led to better opportunities, she said, until she eventually landed a successful career as a regional manager at a multi-billion dollar company. “As the years passed, I experienced many more successes, all without having a high school diploma. I was not worried when I took time off to have my son because I figured when I was ready, the world would be ready for me.”
Fast-forward 15 years, and the “new, post-recession world is more demanding and less forgiving,” she said. “Without an education, employers are reluctant to take a chance on someone with less schooling.” So, Saldarini enrolled in the GED program in order to remove the limitations that her lack of education imposed, and to set an example for her son. At first she was ashamed because she felt unprepared for the courses, but she soon found that many students enrolled in the program had similar stories. “There are students who dropped out of school for many different reasons. Many had to navigate a long and difficult path to get here. We are here to better ourselves, to become better citizens and to obtain a better quality of life for ourselves and our families,” she stated. “I would like to express my respect and admiration to all of the students here today. For your courage and determination, I applaud you. You demonstrate how anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it.”
Paulete Miracle, Deisy Trevino, Jeannot Vladimir, Dalia Bautista, Janet Julian, and Idania Alvarado from the ESL program, and Cory Brandt from the GED program also spoke at the ceremony. Their speeches all expressed similar sentiments: gratefulness towards their teachers and supporters, excitement for successfully completing their respective program, and determination to continue their education and build successful careers.
Brian Butch, chair of the Brookdale Board of Trustees, encouraged students to follow their dreams. “Don’t give up, keep studying, keep pursuing. If you aren’t already, you will be leaders in your communities,” he said.
Freeholder John Curley also offered words of encouragement to the participants. “I got my start at Brookdale. It opened many doors for me, and many challenges. You have overcome a great challenge by graduating this evening. You have made your family and fellow citizens proud. So, please continue on with your education,” he said.
Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy addressed the participants and highlighted the significant role that family and friends have in the educational journey by sharing her personal story. “We come to learning when we’re ready. My educational path was not a straight one, and if it were not for my family at every juncture of my educational career, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“We are proud of you who graduated today. You are all important to us and we want you to continue pursuing your education. Your success starts at Brookdale and it can continue. Congratulations to you and your families,” Murphy said. She also announced that the students who received their GED are all accepted to Brookdale and will have the application fee waived if they register before the start of the 2013 Fall Term.
DeJura’s final thoughts to the students came from one his heroes Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “you must become humble to become teachable, and you must become teachable to become wise.”
Check out the photo gallery to see more pictures from the event.
The Adult Basic Education program is offered at Brookdale in Long Branch, Hazlet and Freehold, and provides the following resources:
- GED classes to improve the skills necessary to pass the GED test
- Adult Basic Education (ABE) focuses on improving reading, language use, and mathematics
- English as a Second Language (ESL)
- New immigrant assistance
- Displaced Homemakers Program provides job skills and training Consumer Education
- The English Literacy Civics and Citizenship course
For more information on the program, contact the center nearest you for details: Long Branch 732-229-8440, Hazlet 732-739-6010 or Freehold 732-625-7047 (GED) and 732-625-7048 (ESL). You can also contact Director of Adult Basic Education Carl De Jura at (732) 229-8440 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo caption: Erica Saldarini with her family at the awards ceremony.