Graduates overcame life's speed bumps to diploma

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By Lou Elliott Jones

It was one of the smallest graduations around: 14 people receiving diplomas at the Levy Campus of Central Florida Community College.

Thursday’s event also was one of the biggest and most anxiously waited for the graduates and their families.

The GED — General Equivalency Diploma — graduates at Central Florida Community College’s Levy campus traveled from nearby counties as well as within Levy County to attend class, study, do homework, projects, and answer the questions on quizzes, tests and final exams.

They overcame crises in their lives, like the murder of a brother. They were boosted by the highlights of their lives, like moms who drive you to class on bad days and do crossword puzzles in the parking lot until you get out of class and drive you home and to work.

They came to class leaving babies to be tended by family members and with the cooperation of sandwich shop bosses who made accommodating schedules.

Everyone rushed from work to make the 7 p.m. event. The graduates, some arriving as early as 6 p.m. and one arriving at 6:59:30 p.m., to march down the aisle in their royal blue caps and gowns and carrying blue-ribboned white carnations. There was a smile on every face as video cameras whirred and recorded the digitally reproduced notes of “Pomp and Circumstance,” and digital cameras flashed and clicked.

This was a real life graduation. The 11 who marched down the aisle told life it had to take a break while they did something for themselves.

Chelsey Petutsky of Williston, whose brother Joshua Langworthy was murdered in 2005, was among the graduates. Petutsky’s father, Eden Langworthy, said she dropped out of Williston High School after her brother’s death.

“That’s why she never finished,” he said. “She went through a lot to get here.”

And she is not stopping this time, he said. Petutusky is beginning classes at CFCC’s Ocala campus in the fall.

Joan Luebbe, adult education coordinator, told the graduates, “This is not the end. This is the beginning of the start of a lifetime of learning.”

Amanda Finney of Williston is taking that to heart. “Who’s Amanda’s mother? You’re a saint,” said math instructor Dannis Radice.

The staff recounted how Finney’s mom declared there would be no sick days and she drove her daughter to school, waited until class ended at 5 p.m. and drove her home or to work at the Subway.

“She’s taking a math class in the fall,” said Radice. “What have I done to deserve this?”

As a herd of family members with cameras lined up to capture the moment, Radice continued joking with his former and future student,” Hey Amanda, we gave you too many tickets.”

Honors graduate Jody Davis Woods of Chiefland posed for a family picture with her husband, Aaron, son Kolby, 3, and daughter Angelica, 7.

“Children with parents who have a high school diploma are 80 percent more likely to get a high school diploma,” Luebbe said. Perhaps they will also be more likely to go on to college as Davis Woods will be majoring in education at CFCC.

Davis Woods had a total score of 3,140 out of a possible 4,500 on the five-part final exam. Each part has a perfect score of 800. Davis Woods scored: 650 in writing, 600 in social studies, 580 in writing, 550 in math, and 760 in science.

Kevin Murray of Gainesville was also honored for his top scores: 620 in math, 600 in writing, and 610 in science.

“So it’s rocket science after all,” Luebbe said.

Levy County Commission Chair Nancy Bell who addressed the graduates said she could identify with them and recounted it took her 10 years to earn a degree while working, being a wife and mother.

“You’re going to have a chance to renew your life,” she said. “Those doors are going to open for you.”

“Life will offer you many paths to take, but they all require change. The advantage is you have made a change and you know only you can make that change.”

Before the graduates marched off with their certificates and diplomas, Luebbe explained that the carnations were to be given away by the graduates “to the one person who may have changed your lives.”

“These moments are yours to enjoy. Take time to enjoy it.”