They might not have graduated from high school the traditional way, but 147 students celebrated like they had Friday evening at Columbia Basin College's General Educational Development, or GED, celebration.
The students, some wearing blue jeans under their gowns, walked out of the side door to CBC's gymnasium just before the graduation's scheduled 7 p.m. start time, only to march back in through the main entrance moments later and retake their seats on the gym floor. Getting through the crowd was a tight squeeze, with people packing the bleachers to the rafters.
CBC Board Chairman Duke Mitchell told those assembled that 550 area students completed their GED tests in the past year.
"Many of those students have continued their education and started taking college classes," he said.
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One of those was Sarai Corona, who obtained her GED in fall 2012 and now is studying agriculture. After moving between the United States and Mexico, she told the new graduates it was tough completing school. But the GED gave her another opportunity.
"If I wouldn't have got my GED, I wouldn't have got into college, and that was my main goal," she said.
The first GED tests were given to help returning World War II veterans return to civilian life, Mitchell said.
Since then, CBC reports, 15.2 million people have completed the GED program. Some look to qualify for higher education, others vie for job promotions and some just seek personal satisfaction. More than 95 percent of U.S. employers consider a GED the same as a traditional high school diploma when it comes to hiring.
The ceremony also included a thank you to St. Vincent de Paul Society of Richland, which donated $5,200 to help students pay for their GED classes.
"Without this generous funding, many of the students couldn't complete the test and finish their GED in a timely manner," said Daphne Larios, interim assistant dean of basic skills.
Twenty-three students graduated from the CBC High School Academy earlier Friday. The program is part of a collaboration between the community and local school districts to help high school dropouts close to earning a diploma finish their schooling.
w Geoff Folsom: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom