Athens Review, Athens, Texas

June 18, 2013

A personal story to tell

Woman tells of son’s experience at GED graduation for TVCC

Special to the Review
The Athens Review

Athens — When Donna Johnson took to the podium last week at Trinity Valley Community College, it wasn’t to tell her own story.

Johnson was the featured speaker at the college’s annual GED graduation ceremony last week. The ceremony gives students who have completed the high school equivalency exam during the past year the chance to attend commencement.

Approximately 80 students walked the stage at the event, which was held at the college’s Athens campus. Many students who take the GED exam with TVCC often prepare by taking GED Prep classes through the Adult Education Program at the college. The program provides students the opportunity to prepare for testing as well as interview and job skills.

Johnson is the outreach coordinator for the East Texas Crisis Center in Athens. But when she spoke last week, she didn’t talk about her job. Instead, she told the story of her biggest inspiration – her son.

His academic challenges started in first grade with a diagnosis of dyslexia. But over the years he learned to meet the challenges of the disorder.

“Every time he would ask me why he should try I would say ‘Because you’re worth it,’” said Johnson.

In high school, her son showed promise in football and worked hard to meet his athletic goals. But his dreams of playing ball beyond high school were shattered when he was hit by a motorcycle.

After months in the hospital and undergoing physical therapy, her son returned to school. But his heart was not in his studies.

“He didn’t know who he was there anymore,” said Johnson.

He dropped out of school. After becoming a single father, he decided to go back to school and earn his GED. Johnson, who had taken a job in another city, said she worked to support him over the phone while he juggled his child, school and a full-time job.

“He used to worry constantly about his car and whether it would start that day,” she said. “He worried about getting sick and not being able to work or complete his classes.”

But through perseverance, her son completed his GED requirements with the help of the TVCC program, she said. Today, he has a degree in kinesiology, is a personal trainer and owns his own company.

“He had the desire to make a change, the determination to make it happen, and the dedication to see it through,” she said.

In addition to Johnson’s keynote speech, student Morika Cheng was the student speaker at the ceremony. Cheng, a native of Cambodia, has recently gone through the college’s English as a Second Language program and the Adult Education program.

She said the friends she has made through the program have helped her keep going.

“We work hard together. We love to improve our English,” she said to her fellow graduates. Cheng has not only completed the GED program, but has also met the requirements to attend college-level classes and is working toward her goal of becoming a pharmacist.

“I am very thankful to the adult education program,” she said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

During the graduation ceremony, Cheng was awarded the first  Phi Theta Kappa – GED Scholarship. The scholarship, which is sponsored by the Iota Alpha Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and the TVCC Foundation, gives one GED student $1,000 toward their associate’s degree at TVCC.

In addition, one other scholarship was awarded. Each year, the Presidential Scholarship gives $500 in scholarship funds to the student who scored the highest on the GED test. This year’s scholarship went to Sabrina Smith of Kaufman.

Students who received their GED diplomas at the ceremony were (listed alphabetically by hometown):

ATHENS: Anita Arnold, Kennedy Ballow,  Dimas Barrientos, Karla Carreon, Morika Cheng, Santiago Javier Costilla, Jamie DeVance, Cassidy Graham, Colton Hankins, TaQuanna Johnson, Dawn McCan, Jacob McGowen, Denisse Rodriguez, Juan A. Rodriguez, Miriam Vazquez

CANEY CITY: Elvis E. Jones

CANTON: Jaime Aguilera, Matthew Alflaih, John Sullivan

CHANDLER: Sandtria Jones

FRANKSTON: James Alexander

GUN BARREL CITY: Brian Green, Heather Hale, James Shepherd, Dana Wakefield

KAUFMAN: Margaret Ashcraft, Jesus Diera, Lawrence Egilske, Randi Horton, Jessica Landaverde, Sabrina Smith

KEMP: Cassandra Barrios, Amanda Brashear, Emily Easter, Robert Gautney, Alonso Guillen-Delgado

MABANK: Mary F. Cook, Marisol Gallegos, Barbara Godfrey, Felisha Henderson, Miracle Lopez, Andy Lynn, Marvin Lyons, Hugo Murillo, Clayton Rasco, Juan M. Rodriguez

MALAKOFF: Mario Degollado, Angela Holt, Lisa Holt

MURCHISON: Kimberly Boswell, Christan Ethridge

LARUE: Susan Blackmon