It’s been 20 years since Kattie Ferguson dropped out of high school. Earning her GED was a dream placed in the periphery until a couple years ago, when she set her sights on going back to school.
Giving a commencement speech, Ferguson was one of 48 students to graduate from the Lawrence school district’s Adult Learning Center and Diploma Completion Program Thursday evening.
Wyatt Sanders, 15, applauded Ferguson after her speech, proud of the steps his mother had taken to earn her GED. He and his sister had traveled from Texas to watch her graduate.
Once estranged, the family had reconciled, and Ferguson’s quest to improve her life with education was an important part of that reunion, she said.
Many graduates had resumed their education after long breaks, like Anthony Robles, who had become “caught up in a really bad lifestyle,” dropping out of school in the eighth grade.
Robles has since changed his lifestyle, experienced job success and started a family with his wife, Siarra. Finishing his high school education was something he felt inspired to do for his three sons, ages 4, 6 and 7.
“My children — I’ve been encouraging them to do things that they’re not comfortable doing, and through that you get growth, and you learn so much, and I realized I wasn’t doing that myself,” Robles said. “I regretted not going back to school, and I can’t ask my kids to do something I didn’t do.”
Anthony’s sons were incredibly supportive, he said, his oldest giving him handwritten notes of encouragement each time he had to take a test. Siarra and their boys watched him saunter across the gym floor to retrieve his diploma. Camera ready, Siarra recorded as her husband stopped to smirk joyfully at his family. “It’s Dad! Mom look, it’s Dad,” the youngest chimed.
The school district’s Learning Center program launched in 2004 and is one of around 50 adult learning centers across the state. People with a range of backgrounds and ages pursue the program in lieu of traditional high school.
Galen Docktor, 18, chose the Adult Education Center because he was able to accelerate his education more swiftly by learning on his own, he said. Now he plans to pursue his interest in cooking by studying the culinary arts.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the graduates to “dream big.”
“Remain relentless and steadfast in your efforts,” Lewis said. “Know that anything is possible, and nothing is impossible.”
Ferguson dreams of becoming a life coach who can help people who are struggling with addiction. An addiction to drugs had threatened to derail her education, she told the crowd during the graduation ceremony.
With 18 months of sobriety and a GED, she is motivated to help others, she said.
“I struggled with addiction for 10 years and I know a lot about it,” she said. “So I’ve decided to go into the life coach program. I want to help addicts and teach people … I’m going to take my education further.”
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.
Molly Adams (she/her), photographer for The Lawrence Times, is a Haskell alum with a passion for photojournalism. She strives to create authentic images that portray the true lives of Lawrence community members.