Joy, tears and excitement were on display at Multnomah County last Thursday, when the Londer Learning Center held a graduation ceremony for its GED class of 2013.
This year the center celebrates its 20th year of helping corrections clients pass the GED exam and go on to build careers and attend college. And, for the first time ever, the graduates wore caps and gowns, thanks to a fundraising effort by Ezekiel Stroschein, a former inmate who worked as a GED tutor for other inmates while serving time in an Oregon prison.
Ezekiel Stroschein and Michele Dishong McCormack at the Londer Center graduation
Judge Henry Kantor
In 2011, Stroschein saw an article on the Londer Learning Center graduation.
"It caught my eye, but it really caught my eye because they didn't have caps and gowns," Stroschein says. "And our department didn't have the funds available for caps and gowns either. It brings such meaning to the graduation to have them, so I wondered if there was a way we could get caps and gowns."
Stroschein was studying for his associate's degree from Chemeketa College through the College Inside program. In one of his final classes, communications instructor Michele Dishong McCormack asked students to complete a service learning project.
Stroschein proposed raising money for caps and gowns for inmate GED graduates and Londer students. Within a month, his group had raised close to $1,300, most of it from inmates. The group donated 40 caps and gowns to Londer graduates and 21 to graduates from Oregon State Correctional Institution.
"It really touched my heart because the guys who gave weren't in school, and they didn't have much money. But they really wanted to help and support the graduates," Stroschein says.
The ceremony brought families, friends, supporters and county staff to honor the graduates for their achievement in passing the seven-hour GED exam. All the graduates had to overcome steep barriers to achieve academic success.
Many students brought children and families, who watched with pride as their parents received diplomas.
Graduate Myldred Sylvia urged her fellow students to continue their journeys toward success. Graduates are eligible for a free year of college.
"Go out there and live lives of impeccable rectitude and integrity," Sylvia said.
Stroschein says that's exactly what he is trying to do.
"When I got incarcerated, I told myself I really wanted to be a better man when I came out so I wouldn't make the same mistakes," he said. "So it means a lot to me to get my degree and get my life back on track to become a pro-social member of society instead of a menace."
Released from prison on April 26, Stroschein spoke at his own graduation from Chemeketa, Tuesday evening. Now, he's working as an assistant to criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Dickey, his partner of 10 years. But he made sure to take time to attend the Londer Learning Center graduation, where he shared his story with the graduates.
The GED exam will be changing at the end of 2013, so anyone working toward a GED should aim to finish it this year, to avoid losing any credit they already have earned. Contact staff at Londer for referral to one of many special programs across the city available this summer to help you pass the test this year. For more information, contact Londer Learning Center at 503-319-1899
Other speakers at the graduation included: Judge Henry Kantor; Truls Neal, assistant director of the Department of Community Justice, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen; Multnomah County Commissioners Deborah Kafoury and Loretta Smith, Carl Goodman, retiring assistant director in the Department of Community Justice, and Londer Center manager Carole Scholl.
Judge Kantor spoke about the value of education and what he'd learned from his mentor, attorney John Ryan, who co-founded the Londer Learning Center with Judge Donald H. Londer. He said Ryan's love of books and reading influences him to this day. Ryan's widow, Virginia Ryan, also was at the ceremony and helped present the awards.
Jaymes Young-Liebgott, Christopher Walker and Nikki Callahan received honors awards for scoring 650 or higher on average across the test. Jim James and Myldred Sylvia were honored for excellence in attendance and for putting in more than 300 hours to prepare for the test.
Center photos of the graduates are: Nicholas Wright, Amber Bertrand and Sandra Morrow.