FARMINGTON — For two students who dropped out of high school at age 16, the high school equivalency certificates they earned represented the culmination of years of struggling to get their lives back on course.

Brittany Escojeda and Krista Smith were among about 100 students who celebrated passing their General Educational Development tests during San Juan College's GED graduation ceremony on Thursday in the Learning Commons Plaza.

"It was a long period, but I always wanted to get it," said Smith, who dropped out of high school because of family problems. "I had to get it because people didn't think I was going to."

Thursday's ceremony honored students who, over the last year, passed all the sections of the GED exam to earn a diploma.

Under the new GED test implemented this year, students have to pass four subjects: math, social studies, science and language arts. The former test broke language arts into the subjects of reading and writing.

Over the last year, about 330 students passed the GED test through San Juan College, said Jenny Lambert, director of the college's Adult Education Center. About 90 percent of those students took the old test last year before the new exam was implemented on Jan. 1.

The cost of the new online GED test is $120. That's about $80 more than the previous test, which was offered only on paper.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass started Thursday's ceremony by thanking the graduates for choosing San Juan College to earn their high school equivalency diplomas.

Lambert spoke about how graduation is a ritual event that marks a transition in a person's life.

"It's a way to carve a milestone in an individual's life when one social status is altered," Lambert said.

Both Smith and Escojeda dropped out of high school and had children before attempting to pass the GED test.

It was the math section of the test that held up both students. Both said they struggled for several years to pass the exam.

From left, Nathaniel DeWees and Rebecca Herbert pose for photos on Thursday during the General Educational Development diploma ceremony at San Juan College
From left, Nathaniel DeWees and Rebecca Herbert pose for photos on Thursday during the General Educational Development diploma ceremony at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Smith took the exam four times before passing the math portion in November 2013. She plans to enroll at San Juan College in the fall to pursue a degree in human services.

Last year, Escojeda started taking courses in the college's Adult Basic Education Program after she had been working at passing the GED since 2009. She said the classes helped her prepare by studying reading, math and writing for the exam.

Escojeda credits the courses with helping her pass the GED test in November. She recently finished her first semester in San Juan College's Occupational Safety Program and said she earned straight A's in all of her classes.

"Having three kids summed it up. I had to do something, and I have to support them," Escojeda said. "Me being in the drug court program and me getting in the GED program put me in a place of structure."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.