Whether they came from Asia, Europe, South or Central America, all of the students graduating from Brookdale’s noncredit English as a Second Language (ESL) program on June 15 shared one thing in common: they were one step closer to their dreams.
For level 3 ESL graduate Olga Gamula, who moved from Ukraine to live with her family in Marlboro two years ago, that dream is a new career as a dental hygienist, and the ability to build a fulfilling life as an American citizen.
“I wanted to be able to communicate with other people, find a job, obtain a profession, have a social life and be independent,” said Gamula, who joined the Brookdale ESL program in 2014. “The first time I came to an ESL class, I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying and I was just following what other students were doing. Gradually I started understanding more and more… This was a very important learning experience, which allowed me to communicate with other people at work and prepared me to enroll in dental hygienist certificate program. I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity.”
For others, like level 2 ESL graduate Blanca Tlacamulco Rojas, the dream is eliminate the obstacles standing in the way of success. Raised by her grandmother in the small town of Puebla, Mexico after her parents emigrated to the United States, Rojas was responsible for looking after her two younger brothers while attending school and meeting a wide range of family obligations.
After immigrating to Freehold at the age of 21, she found a job at a local restaurant and decided to improve her language skills through the ESL program.
“At first it was difficult because everything was different,” said Rojas. “My coworkers did not speak Spanish. I was afraid of the new world that I was experiencing. However, I was always positive. Finally, a year ago, I was made a manager of the restaurant. This made me happy, and proud of myself. Now I am more interested in continuing to improve my English, and I am sure that I will. I believe in myself. This is not the end. This is the beginning of anything we want.”
These and other stories were the highlight of evening on June 15, as more than 60 students of all ages and backgrounds were honored by a capacity crowd of local dignitaries, college officials, friends and family members for graduating from the Brookdale ESL program.
The ceremony, held at the Freehold campus, featured addresses by more than a dozen graduates, as well as Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley and course instructors Milagros Martino and Susan George. Also in attendance were Brookdale Board of Trustees member Tracey Abby-White, Vice President of Student Success David Stout, Associate Vice President of Continuing and Professional Services Marie Lucier Woodruff and Adult Basic Education Director Linda Roma.
“Tonight we celebrate your hard work,” said Murphy. “English is a very difficult language to learn, and I congratulate you for coming here twice a week and studying hard and practicing. You are building our community, and we are happy to be here to support you. I will leave here tonight inspired. Thank you for bringing honor on Brookdale Community College.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Curley, who congratulated the graduates on behalf of the governing body of Monmouth County.
“We are exceptionally proud of your accomplishments,” he said. “Your efforts put forth will create greater opportunities for yourselves, for your families, for your community. So few people work as hard as you have in getting to know the English language. Your efforts are something you will be able to give to the next generation, and that makes America stronger. I want you to believe in yourselves, I want you to move forward from this day and do the best that you can, because you are the best.”
Graduates from all three ESL levels were presented with official certificates of completion, and took time out during the ceremony to sign celebratory songs in honor of the occasion. ESL students also served as emcees for the program, leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner and presenting their instructors with gifts and praise.
For Bonnie Li, who emigrated to the United States from Beijiing, China in 2014, instructor Susan George served as a lifeline at a time of great struggle and uncertainty.
“I felt like a deaf and dumb person. I couldn’t understand the meaning of others’ words, and I couldn’t express my ideas as a result,” said Li. “I was afraid of talking, shopping and living. Fortunately, my friend introduced me to this ESL program and Ms. Susan. She not only helped me to improve my English skills, but also taught us plenty of American culture and history. Now I am more and more self-confident. I can talk with my American neighbors. I can carry my daughter to visit museums. And I can go to see a doctor alone.
“Life is so beautiful,” Li added. “We should enjoy it rather than keep away from it. Frederick Douglas, writer and abolitionist, noted that if there is no struggle, there is no progress. I am sure that we can all believe the validity of this statement… I am lucky to have had he opportunity to join in the class. It will be kept in my heart forever.”
Brookdale’s noncredit, grant-funded ESL program is offered as part of the Monmouth County Adult Basic Education Consortium. The consortium, led by Brookdale, includes community partners such as Literacy Volunteers, the Community Affairs and Resource Center, the LADACIN Network and Monmouth Vocational High School.
Click here to learn more about Brookdale’s Adult Basic Education programs.
Check out more photos of the recognition ceremony here.