Latisha Fernandez failed at earning her GED certificate three times before she recently passed the test.
Many students vying to pass their General Educational Development tests struggled during their first attempt at school. And on Thursday evening, more than 300 of those students celebrated turning a new page.
San Juan College hosted a graduation for students who successfully completed the five sections of the GED test within the past year. About 170 of those students, including Yazzie and Fernandez, completed adult-education courses at San Juan College to prepare for the tests, said Jenny Lambert, the interim director of the GED program at San Juan College.
Earning a GED requires students to pass math, writing, reading, social studies and science tests that cover lessons learned in high school. Students at the college who celebrated receiving their GED certificates ranged from 16 to 65 years old, Lambert said.
"They had a struggle and there's a need to come back and redeem yourself, which is a pretty powerful force," Lambert said. "Most of our students have some turning point in their lives when they think, "I've got to get this thing done.' There's some form of crisis in their life that brings them back."
Fernandez, a 25-year-old Farmington woman, is raising two young children. She dropped out of traditional high school, settled with her boyfriend and had two children, who are 6 and 4 years old.
Right now, she doesn't have a job, and she is raising the children by herself.
Fernandez said she was motivated to improve her life for her family. Her children gave her the additional motivation she needed to be successful this year, she said.
"I wanted my kids to think of their mother as someone they could look up to," she said, wiping away tears just before the ceremony. "I want to make all of our lives better. It wasn't just me this time."
Yazzie, a 37-year-old Crouch Mesa man, had a tough upbringing. He said his mother died when he was 11 years old, and he didn't have a relationship with his father until late in life. He has been sick with cancer, homeless and struggled with alcohol for years until he met his wife. They have been married for 10 years and have a 12-year-old daughter.
Yazzie credited his wife and daughter with his academic success. He earned his GED in November, and, this spring, he had a successful first semester at San Juan College, where he is working toward an associate degree. He wants to be a welder and continue his education.
"What got me to come back for my GED was my family," he said.
"When I had a family and a daughter, it taught me I need to be a better example."
Preparing to pass the GED test was difficult. Yazzie had to get himself from his home in Crouch Mesa to the college and back by riding his bicycle, taking the bus or walking. His wife and children live in Cortez, Colo., so he was often separated from them.
"There was something inside me that motivated me to get there and get it done," he said.
Fernandez and Yazzie said they also gained support for continuing their education from their classmates. The other students in the program have faced similar struggles.
Lambert said students in GED courses can sometimes find an atmosphere in which they are treated with respect, and that can be a unique experience.
"You are not the only one in a bad spot trying to improve your life," Fernandez said.
Ryan Boetel can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.