MARINETTE — Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Marinette campus celebrated its graduating General Education Diploma (GED) and High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) students Monday with a commencement ceremony. According to public relations manager Kara Leiterman, this year’s graduating class is their largest on record: 35 individuals completed either GED or HSED requirements. 30 of them received GEDs, 5 received HSEDs, and 17 of the GED recipients are inmates at Marinette County Jail.

Not all of the year’s students were at the ceremony, however 10 were able to attend: Katie Salewski, Vicki Krerowicz, Molly Generose, Katie Arvizu-Fuentes, Gage Rhodes, Seth Nelson, Crystal King, Sabrina Branham, Krystal Mayland and Tatiana Swanson.

“The GED is not an easy battery of tests to pass,” said NWTC GED instructor Gary Johnson, “It’s very difficult, it’s been hard on them, and I’m sure they’re very glad they’re done. We’re proud of them.”

Jennifer Flatt, NWTC’s new dean, said a few words to the graduates. She said, “I’ve been here since last Monday, and the absolute highlight of my first week was having the privilege of signing the certificates you’re going to receive. It’ll be tough to beat that.”

“You are incredibly strong, brave, persistent, powerful and intelligent people,” she continued, “and I know that just by the nature of what you’ve achieved. I don’t have to have been there for every test to know how much strength and courage it’s taken to get you to this point.”

“It’s amazing, the hard work that goes into this,” said Joe Moser, the Marinette County Jail education coordinator. “It truly is a team effort between the instructors, the students, the family support, all of that. I work primarily with the incarcerated students, and they only have limited study time and are in a pod with 15 other people who potentially don’t have the same goals and mindset as the students. I commend them for what they’ve done.”

Moser encouraged the graduates to continue to set goals, even if it’s as simple as finishing a book over the summer.

NWTC’s associate dean, Pam Gerstner, wanted to make sure both the graduates and the rest of those in attendance knew just how big of a deal earning a GED is. “Programming at Marinette County Jail, in partnership with NWTC, for adult basic education for GED and HSED has been going on for 12 years, and in that time 200 people have completed the GED program. In the current test series that started in 2014, there are four required nationally-based subject tests for the GED. In Wisconsin, we threw in a fifth required test on civics, based on the naturalization exam for those seeking citizenship.”

She continued to say that in the seven counties NWTC serves, 36,000 individuals age 18 and above don’t have a high school diploma. Between June of 2018 and the end of May this year, there were roughly 600 to 700 individuals who sought GED/HSED services from NWTC. “Of that, roughly 140 completed the GED in this past year,” she said.

As a part of the ceremony, Johnson asked the new graduates six questions. First, he asked why the students decided this year was the year for them to get their GED. “I was tired of holding myself back,” said King.

“I was tired of working in factories. It’s all I’ve done for 15 years,” said Mayland, “I didn’t like being in a job that I didn’t like. Now I’m enrolling in Photography at NWTC, so now I get to do what I want instead of someone else telling me what I have to do.”

“If I hadn’t gone to jail, I might not have gotten my GED,” Krerowicz said, “I went to get my GED once before in 1993, and all I had left was my writing test, but when I wanted to go to college I couldn’t because my transcripts were all terminated, so I had to start all over. Now when I get out I’ll be able to go to school for cosmetology like I wanted.”

Johnson then asked about which of the two-hour tests was the most difficult for them. For King and Mayland, math was particularly difficult. “I had to learn mat all over again, I hadn’t used it in so long,” King said. Nelson said his biggest hurdle was the language arts test. “I had a hard time with the grammar,” he said.

“Now that you have your GED, what are your plans for the future?” Johnson asked.

King said she would like to write a book. Nelson said he aspired to be a professional firearms instructor. Mayland said she wants to try her hand at freelance photography. Swanson is now enrolled at NWTC and is going to study medical laboratory technology. Krerowicz is hoping to go into cosmetology, or something else to continue to better herself, which was echoed by Arvizu-Fuentes. Salewsky said she wants to go on to study culinary arts with a specific focus on pastry.

“I just want to be financially stable,” said Generose. Branham said she was going into mechanical engineering. “I understand all of the hard stuff,” she said.

“Never give up,” King said when asked what advice she would give to someone pursuing a GED. “People hold themselves back because they feel frustrated or defeated. It’s our doubt that hold us back. The best things in life are earned, and it’s not easy, so don’t give up.”

“If you fail, try again. Keep trying. Don’t ever let yourself be defeated,” Nelson said.

Swanson said, “don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a person for doing it.”

“Get started on your math right away,” Generose said.