Laura Verdin addressed her fellow students, standing behind a podium as the Sanger Unified superintendent, the district’s board of trustees and a bunch of family and friends looked on.
“When I was a teenager, I followed a dark path,” she said. “I dropped out at 15. My dad did the best he could.”
That was then. On May 30, Verdin was selected to speak before her class of 53 graduates in the Washington Academic Middle School auditorium. Her message was one many in the audience could relate to. She said she enrolled in Sanger Adult School to restart her education and broaden her opportunities.
“There were times I wanted to give up,” she said. “(But) I’m not a quitter.”
Nor were any of her classmates. Each had a story. Each had struggled to overcome odds and succeeded.
“Here’s to new beginnings,” Verdin said. “We’ve achieved an important goal. Let’s see what’s next.”
Lori Hawkyard, Adult School principal, said it had been a privilege helping to guide her class of 2019. “Adult school was not your original plan,” Hawkyard said. “Many of you had to work to support your families. You had to summon the courage. You had to consider what was missing and what you wanted for yourself.”
Hawkyard said graduation would be the first of many accomplishments and urged her students to use their determination on career goals. “A wise person once told me every day is a job interview,” she said.
Verdin, 34, said she got pregnant at 17, and it changed her life in multiple ways. That child this year will be moving onto high school from WAMS with a 3.4 grade point average, she said.
Verdin said she’s looking to get a job as an administrative assistant. But she has a master plan. “I’m trying to get a job to earn some money and then go to school,” she said.
She attributed much of her success to the support of her husband, Enrique Mendoza. And she had some advice for others who may have found themselves in a situation similar to her own. “Stay focused. Stay determined. And always believe you can,” she said. “There’s always someone waiting for you.”
Graduate Erik Morales, 21, said he’s looking to get a better job and move onto college to navigate a better future. “It feels unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t expect to graduate this year. But hard work and determination helped me pull through.”
Morales said his girlfriend Sara Morales was a big reason for his success. “I helped him with almost every subject,” she said. “English, history, science. I had to make him do it when he didn’t want to.”
But was she proud? “Definitely,” she said.
Erik said he just wasn’t motivated initially while in school. He said he went out and worked instead. “But I wanted to get a better job,” he said. Sara indicated he was worth the investment.
Jason Gonzales, 34, graduated alongside nephew Sergio Welch, 19. Gonzales said they helped each other complete their schooling. “We did a lot of nitpicking,” he said. “We made sure each other was going to do this on time.”
Gonzales has four children of his own. And each one was there. “They keep me on a straight line,” he said.
Gonzales said he plans to continue his studies at Fresno City College and move onto Fresno State, pursuing a master’s so he can be a counselor. “My past makes me want to help people,” he said. “Anything I start, I finish.”
Welch said he plans to continue his training and become an emergency medical technician and firefighter. And he was a man of few words. But he wanted to add this line from John, Paul, George and Ringo. “Let it be,” he said.
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