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Portland Adult Education Graduates “Embark on New Life”

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Portland Adult Education Graduates “Embark on New Life”
Posted on 06/17/2016
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At the graduation ceremony this week for the Portland Adult Education (PAE) Class of 2016, Diane Nizigiyimana, a class speaker, said, “I am so thankful to Portland Adult Education for offering so many adults the opportunity to renew our knowledge and embark on our new life.”

The ceremony, held June 16 at Merrill Auditorium, was PAE’s 168th graduation ceremony. PAE has been educating Portland adults since 1848. Graduating this week were 42 students who attained high school diplomas and 103 students who passed the HiSET test (formerly GED).

PAE graduates haven’t taken the usual high school route for reasons such as illness, disability, working full-time to support their families, moving to new country where they didn’t speak the language, homelessness and even war. Sometimes, PAE students have already completed high school or college, but in another country and in another language.

The Class of 2016 is a highly educated group that illustrates how much additional prior education adults often bring to their studies at PAE. One-third of the graduates completed the requirements they began at local high schools. Another third attained their second high school diplomas because they chose to earn a U.S. high school credential to strengthen their academic English language skills. Five of the students have prior college degrees. Two of the students completed high school and college, but because they could not access their academic documents, they started from scratch and took more than 20 classes at PAE.

Nizigiyimana, 36, one of two class speakers, lost her husband and her home to the violence and political unrest in Burundi. Both losses have only strengthened her resolve to provide stability and health for her two young children – and contribute to the health of others – by studying to become a radiology technician.

Nizigiyimana said during her graduation speech that she was shocked to learn the two degrees she had earned in her home country weren’t recognized in the United States. “That day, I decided to go back to school,” she said. “I decided to design my new destiny.”

Her progress at PAE was remarkable. She started in an intermediate English language class in January 2015 and ended up passing her college placement exams with unusually high scores. She hopes to start her degree program at SMCC in January 2017. She learned at graduation that she was the winner of a $250 college scholarship from the Portland Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers. She urged other students to continue their education. “You’re not old,” she said. “You can do it.”

Mohammed Al Mshakeel, 36, was the other class speaker. He has just completed his second high school credential. Forced to flee Iraq, he was unable to retrieve his educational documents, so he started over at PAE. By taking four courses each trimester (20 hours of classes per week) and volunteering at the Barron Center for 120 hours, he pushed to finish his credential last year, but a serious illness waylaid his plans. Working to support three young children and attending school simultaneously is tough, but Mohammed earned the diploma. He said in his speech, “I’m not going to stop here. I’m going to go to college and continue my education.” He concluded his talk by saying, “Thank you so much from the heart, Portland Adult Education.”

The ceremony also included remarks from PAE Director Bethany Campbell and Interim Portland Superintendent Jeanne Crocker. Two King Middle School students, eighth-grader Jonathan Rugema and seventh-grader Alain Igiraneza, both originally from Burundi, sang two songs, one of them an original song by Jonathan, called “Stay Gold.”

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