Whether they started their lives in South America, Asia, Europe or right here in Monmouth County, the students in Brookdale’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) program all carry the same dream: to build a better life.
On June 11 more than 150 of those students were honored for taking a significant step toward their goals.
The students, representing dozens of countries and currently residing in towns across Monmouth County, recently completed or advanced in the ABE’s English as a Second Language (ESL) or General Educational Development (GED) programs.
Honoring their achievements during an award ceremony at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch, Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy thanked the students for reflecting the highest ideals of the college.
“This is the culmination of much hard work, and we are here to celebrate the achievements of so many people,” Murphy said. “You bring honor on our college.”
The ceremony drew hundreds of friends, family members, faculty and officials from Brookdale and Monmouth County, some of whom have watched thousands of students graduate from the program since it began more than 20 years ago.
Keynote speaker and Monmouth County Clerk M. Claire French encouraged the students to build on their achievements by continuing their education and seeking careers right here at home.
Acknowledging the ever-increasing demands of the modern American job market, French said Brookdale and Monmouth County will remain open to the students as they enter the next phase of their journey.
“Many of you feel that this is truly the land of opportunity and you want to be a part of it,” she said. “You have worked to build your credentials in the American Dream. Every day has been a step closer to living that dream, for you and your family and your future.
“I can tell you that every part of that struggle is worth it,” she added. “And tonight is your night to take a well-deserved bow.”
A number of students also spoke during the ceremony, explaining the difficult beginnings and various struggles they encountered in America before enrolling in the ABE program.
Agustin Olivera, who emigrated from Mexico to America two years ago, said he felt lost and isolated without the ability to ask directions or even respond to people who tried talking to him.
Then heard about the ABE program. Living in Freehold, he drove to Brookdale’s Higher Education Center in Long Branch after work in order to take ESL classes at night. Less than 24 months later, Olivera was able to express his gratitude for the program in near-perfect English.
“I want to give a big thank you to the college for giving us the opportunity for the free education,” he said. “And especially my teacher, Susan George. It is because of her that I am able to stand here today.”
Now living in Howell, GED student Lloyd Gomes moved to America from the small South American country of Guyana when he was 17 years old. His former country, he said, had high crime rates but a low level of education. When he moved, he could neither read nor write.
“I knew I had a long and difficult road ahead of me,” Gomes said.
Scared and intimidated, he enrolled in the ABE program and walked into Lee Snowess’ GED class on Brookdale’s Freehold campus. He felt welcome immediately, he said.
“Mrs. Snowess breaks things down and makes things so simple for us, it is amazing. To this day, I swear, she has magic powers when it comes to math,” he said. “I have never seen someone who loves her job so much and get so much joy from watching her students succeed.”
“This program isn’t just for people who want their high school diploma,” he added. “It’s a second chance for people who really need one – a new beginning for people who have finally found a place where they can thrive and flourish.”
More than a few students have gone on to even greater success after graduating from the ABE program. Former student Pasang Schrek is currently pursuing a nursing degree at Brookdale and was recently awarded a scholarship by the New Association for Lifelong Learning (NJALL).
Now living in Matawan, Schrek moved to America from Nepal only three years ago.
As a child she had always wanted to be a nurse. At the age of 7 she walked for days to Nepal’s capital city, moving in with an aunt there to seek a better education. Over time, however, her aunt’s husband and son began abusing her, forcing her to leave school and put her dreams on hold.
She met her current husband – a missionary in Nepal – at the age of 20, and moved with him to America. Ultimately Schrek found her way into Lee Snowess’ classroom, where she said she discovered a new sense of purpose, confidence and self-worth.
“Even though it doesn’t seem like much to tell someone, “You can do it,” for me it was life-changing,” she said. “No one had ever told me that before.”
Schrek passed the state GED test on her first try and went on to earn her high school diploma. She just finished her first semester at Brookdale, earning straight A’s.
The ceremony also featured students Sneve Charles and Kendra Martin, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, respectively. Rabbi Shmaya Galperin of the Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel gave an invocation, and the Rev. Brian T. Butch, chair of the Brookdale Board of Trustees, gave a benediction.
Brookdale’s Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Nancy Kegelman certified the awards for students completing the ESL and GED courses and thanked all of the staff and faculty who make the programs possible.
“Congratulations on your hard-earned, well-deserved achievements,” she said.
Carl DeJura, director of the ABE program for the past 14 years, received some awards of his own in recognition of his pending retirement on June 30.
ABE staff and faculty presented him with a “Best Director” award, while Monmouth County Freeholder Serena DiMaso and Freeholder Deputy Director Gary Rich appeared on behalf of the county to name June 11, 2014 in DeJura’s honor.
“It was a labor of love,” DeJura said, remarking on his time spent with the program. “We have had an awful lot of successes, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Click here for more photos from the ceremony.