The last time Victoria Witt opened a schoolbook was in ninth-grade.
Carrie Scott thought she had attended 10th-grade, only to find out her educational journey had been interrupted two years earlier.
All three are now graduates of Clermont Northeastern High School, members of the fifth Adult 22-Plus Class – a program that gives adults 22-and-older the chance to complete their high school course of study and earn a diploma. They and 31 others received their degrees in ceremonies May 27 at The Oasis Conference Center in Miami Township. This class was actually two – everyone who had completed the program since the last official ceremony in January 2020. Normally, CNE conducts two such commencements each year, one in winter and one in spring. Fifty-three were eligible; many received their degrees last fall and chose not to participate.
“It takes a lot of guts, grit and determination for anyone to return to school at any time, let alone as an adult during a pandemic,” CNE High School Principal T.J. Glassmeyer told the graduates, their family and friends. “When everything else shut down, you opened yourself up and decided to finish something you started long ago. You are shining examples of what you can accomplish when you work hard. Wherever the path of life takes you, never stop learning, keep persevering and never stop reaching for the stars, because Rockets, which you are all now, reach higher.”
Clermont County Chamber of Commerce President Joy Lytle continued the perseverance theme in her speech to the graduates,
“As I stand before you tonight, I know each of you have run many races throughout your life, whether in your careers, with your finances, or within a relationship, you have all persevered one way or another, and now you have persevered to better yourself through education,” said Lytle. “It is your most recent accomplishment, but it will not be your last.”
Perseverance aptly describes the journeys of Hughes, Witt and Scott.
Hughes, 24, dropped out of school in seventh-grade, and “spent my entire life without an education, essentially,” he said. “Made a lot of bad decisions as a kid, that was one of them, and then I was introduced to the program and it’s such an amazing experience too, because as a kid the most important thing is the education, so when you give that up, you feel that the sky is the limit, it’s like limited to the decisions.”
The Mount Carmel resident worked for a company that cleans schools, and pursued a custodial position at CNE.
To get the job, he needed a high school degree. Hughes enrolled in the Adult 22-Plus program and completed his requirements in five months, working with program coordinator Bob Havrilla.
“I was going three times a week, for three hours,” said Hughes. “Any minute I could get in there, I stayed. I didn’t want to miss out on anything.”
Now, he works second shift at the high school, and is enjoying the experience he missed.
“I can kind of watch other people live that life and maybe get a little bit out of it myself, and being able to work up to that point, to get that position by doing this, it seemed like everything else came into perfect progression, perfect cycle, and I was really happy to get the job,” Hughes said.
Witt, 34, left school in ninth-grade. She described herself as “one of those teenagers who didn’t really care about school,” and her parents didn’t push her to return. She would become a mother, to Dominic, now 14, and Isaac, now 4, and had trouble finding and keeping jobs without a diploma. She learned abut Adult 22-Plus, but was hesitant.
“It took me a while to actually get into the program because I was scared, but Bob called me and he always was adamant being able to do this,” said Witt. “He never doubted me. He said, ‘Yes, I know you can do this. You’re an amazing person, this and that. So he really pushed and made me feel like ‘I know I can do this. I shouldn’t be scared of it.”
She completed the coursework in two months, overcoming her fear of tests. Degree in hand, she is hoping to land a steady job.
“I definitely want to go to college and hope to become a veterinarian, but I just want a really good job right now,” Witt said. “I have two kids. I kind of strive to be a better mother, so I want this for my kids, and for myself, of course, but just to be a better mom, to make sure they know that no matter what, they can graduate. It’s not going to be hard and if I can do it, they can do it. I want to be someone they can look up to.”
Scott was a student in the Forest Hills School District. Now 47, she lives in Williamsburg and works as a traffic flagger for a construction company. A friend referred her to the program. She met with Havrilla, who tracked down her transcripts, and they discovered that she had completed less school than she thought.
“I was under the impression that I had went to 10th-grade, and apparently Bob got my transcripts and we discovered it was eighth-grade,” Scott said.
She had tried to return previously, but had trouble with math, which, she said, was ironic, because it was her favorite subject when she was in school.
“I even took a certificate to Bob to show him that I had gotten in seventh-grade, some kind of certificate for achieving math,” said Scott. “Math was my favorite subject, but it was tough for me as an adult.”
Havrilla has been the constant through the Adult 22-Plus program’s existence. He is responsible for prodding, pushing and encouraging each of the now 142 graduates. Hughes, Witt and Scott all praised hos role in their education.
“He dedicates himself to his students. He loves what he does and honestly he’s the only one who can do it, just from what I’ve seen, so if he’s coming over here to help me with math, a second later he’s helping someone with history, science, whatever it is. Just a great guy for that role,” Hughes said. “You could tell that he’s had that leadership experience and I was very happy that it was him that was in that role to teach us, to influence us, to guide us on our path.”
Witt noted Havrilla’s persistence. “If I didn’t understand anything, he would explain it to me 10 different times so he was a good guy. He would never give up,” said Witt.
“I was clueless when I came to Bob’s class, but Bob has been very patient with me and it just means everything to me,” Scott said.
Any adult who did not complete high school or earn a GED, lives in Ohio, and is over 22 years of age is eligible to enroll in the Adult 2-Plus program, regardless of school district. The flexibility of the program allows adults to work from home or with our caring and compassionate staff. For more information, contact AdultDiploma@cneschools.org, or call 513-625-1211 Extension 350.
The members of Clermont Northeastern High School’s Adult 22-Plus graduating class for May 2021:
Destiny Nicole Allen
Katie Elizabeth Austin
Veronica K. Bayes
Jamie Nicole Bell
Tasha R. Brewer
Brianna Lee Brown-Huber
Mark A. Chandler
Robert Williams Coldiron Jr.
Amber Faye Cook
Suzanne A. Counterman
Dawn Michelle Downing
Joshua Michael Fleming
Cassie A. Foresee
Joseph Louis Frasure Jr.
Victoria Louise Geer-Witt
Carl B. Godfrey
Charlie L. Green Jr.
Yousif Y. Gwalima
Katherine Suzanne Hargis
David Lee Hughes
Ricky James Jones
Kasey Nicole Kain
Blair Ashley Kugele
Devin L. Lawson
Timothy L. Lucas
Cierra Jordan Maple
Ashley R. McKenrick
Kory M. Noland
Ryan Michael Palmer
Trevor A. Paytes
Jason Christian Perry
Jessica Sean Reed
Martika Marie Sanders
Marie N. Santiago
Shona M. Schmurr
Jaclyn Amie Schulz
Carrie Louise Scott
Joshua A. Singleton
Daniel A. Stephenson
Timothy W. Swafford Jr.
Linda L. Swearingen
Andrea Renee Wagner
Jennifer Lynn Williams
April Joy Williamson
Courtny Ann Windsor