Battling the odds, these Acadiana residents achieve their GEDs

Cody Richard’s graduation day has been a long time coming.

Richard was a high school senior at a private school in Crowley when, in 2003, an automobile accident changed his life.

“I was in a coma for three months and had five brain surgeries. I had to learn how to walk, talk, brush my teeth — to live all over again. I wouldn’t be here today without God,” Richard said before receiving his high school equivalency diploma Thursday during a ceremony at Lafayette High School.

Richard, now 30, still experiences short-term memory loss, which made it difficult over the years to complete his high school education in adult education programs. But he persevered and, in August 2013, began taking classes through the adult education program through the Lafayette Parish School System.

“It feels great to accomplish it,” he said.

Richard was one of 39 adults who received diplomas in the Lafayette High ceremony Thursday. The adult students attended various programs offered by the Lafayette Parish School System, Goodwill Industries of Acadiana and Keeping Youth Trained and Educated, a Workforce Investment Board program.

“It’s a community graduation,” said Robin Olivier, the school system’s adult education supervisor.

The school system provides professional development and other resources to the KYTE and Goodwill adult education programs, so the school district organizes a single ceremony for all Lafayette Parish graduates. Some students who received diplomas Thursday were “walk-ins,” meaning they didn’t take prep courses through any program but took the equivalency test at a Lafayette Parish site and were invited to participate in the ceremony, Olivier said.

While nearly 40 students participated in the ceremony, more than 130 passed the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, between January and May 23 — but not all students choose to participate in the pomp and circumstance, she said.

Also Thursday, South Louisiana Community College held a ceremony for more than 30 graduates who completed its high school equivalency diploma program at its Abbeville and Crowley campuses. The ceremony was held at SLCC’s Lafayette campus auditorium.

The need to walk the walk for her own young children sent Markeila Guidry, 28, of Abbeville, back to school to complete her high school education. She was 16 when she dropped out of high school, a decision she called dumb.

“I want to be a role model for my kids and to better myself,” said the mother of two children, ages 1 and 5.

Guidry wants to continue her studies in college and said she’s drawn to careers where she can help others, such as social work or nursing. She plans to start classes at SLCC in August.

Jessie Fitch, of Church Point, dropped out of high school at 15. Four years later, he now has a diploma. He credits his friends’ parents for encouraging him to finish.

“It feels good that I did it,” Fitch said. “It will help me find a job. I’d like to do something in the mechanics field.”

He and his Crowley program classmate, Matthew Hanks, 18, started the program earlier this year. Both young men graduated with Guidry and 37 others in the SLCC ceremony Thursday.

Hanks, of Crowley, dropped out of high school at 17 because he started falling behind in his courses after starting at a new school. He’ll start basic training for the Louisiana Army National Guard in August.

“I’ll start college next year because I know it’s harder in life to find a job with just a GED. It motivated me to go to college,” he said.

Graduates who received diplomas during the Lafayette High ceremony: Brittney Angelle, Tanna Aube, Brandy Bernard, Lee Boudreaux, Kaylie Boutin, Byron Breaux, Decarla Broussard, Felicia Broussard, Derion Celestine, Derrick Duhon, Jerrica Etienne, Kaylyn Gisclaire, Bryson Goodbeir, Krissii Guillory, Denise Howard, Allishia Hunter, Artraveyan Johnson, Angelica Jones, La’Sha Jones, Holly Jones, Gaylin Jones, Kendrea LaGrange, Angellica Leblanc, Monica Lee, Jessica Leger, Bianca Lewis, Tabitha Michael, Porsha Mouton, Isabel Rangel, Cody Richard, Nicole Ripberger, Lauren Robin, Pazley Savoy, Andre Smith, Odyssey Sonnier, Allison Paige Swarhtout, Falon Trahan, Meredith Veazie and Josefina Zuniga.

Graduates who received diplomas during the SLCC ceremony: Jamie Abshire, Tara Abshire, Amber Alexis, Charles Bailey, Anna Barnett, Madeline Blanchard, Tony Barthe, Constance Bourque, Rochelle Brailey, April Brevelle, Daniel Comeaux, Brenda Cortes, Kasy Cuthkelvin, Karesha Daniels, Seth D’Heilly, Brianna Drake, Heidi Duhon, Daryan Falgout, Jessie Fitch, Jonathan Freed, Charlie Goutierrez, Krissii Guillory, Matthew Hanks, Adriana Hoffpauir, Chelsie LeBeouf, Andrew Lyons, Tiana Menard, Shandi Migues, Kassie Navare, Keiffer Pousson, Cierra Quibodeaux, Jamiee Richard, Matthew Richard, Naomi Richard, Hillary Romero, Joshua Segura, Taylor Thibodeaux, Trent Touchet, Alice Trahan, Blaire Trahan and Skylar Trahan.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.