Direct from the Director: a few zigs and zags

Last Wednesday was Graduation Day for students from the Centre for Lifelong Learning (CFLL). Board Chair Jevnikar and Superintendent Fernandes joined Principal Alma Gordon, Vice-Principal Dee Wojcik, Centre for Lifelong learning staff, the graduates and their families for an evening of ceremony and celebration recognizing the achievements of 165 graduates.
Shared with me was Paula Vanderwerff’s Valedictory Address. Paula’s story in some ways is typical of many of the CFLL graduates, in that her path to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) contained a few ‘zigs’ and a few ‘zags’. Through her perseverance, dedication, hard work, the support of family, friends, bosses, teachers, support staff and administrators a distant dream became a reality. When we asked Paula for permission to share her Valedictory address her response was, of course, she wanted others to know the difference the CFLL has made and the impact an OSSD has had on her life. Congratulations Paula and all your fellow graduates! We are so very proud of all that each of you have accomplished.

Good evening fellow graduates, families and teachers. Well here we are at our graduation. I must say that if anyone told me a year ago that I would be giving a speech at 46 years old at my own graduation… I would have seriously questioned their sanity.
Like many of you, I was a young teenager when I decided to make the life altering decision to quit high school. A decision that would haunt me throughout my adulthood.
After I quit school, I immediately started to work in retail. Back then retail jobs did not require a high school diploma. I went on to work retail for many years to come. The very first time that my decision would come back to haunt me was when I became a single parent, I quickly came to realize that a retail job could not pay the bills or meet the needs of my children. I had to work two retail jobs to try to make ends meet and was barely doing it. I decided to start applying at factories for a higher paying job, and soon found out that most of those required a Grade 12 diploma. Will if anything, I am a persistent person and never gave up. I was finally able to attain a factory job at Conference Cup. They did not require their employees at the time to have a Grade 12 diploma. I was so very grateful for my job. I could finally look after my children with this one job. I have continued to work at this factory for the past 20 years.
A real chance for advancement at work happened this past March. There was an opening for a Millwright apprentice. An opportunity that I had been waiting for, but there was one problem – the position required a high school diploma.
I decided there and then that my fear of high school would end that day. I applied for the posting, and to my great delight passed my mechanical aptitude test. When my shift was over and the position was mine, I picked up the phone and called the Centre for Lifelong Learning and made an appointment with Mr. Sean Pynaert.
April 1st was my first meeting with Sean. It was an awesome and encouraging meeting. I don’t know if any of you have had the privilege of meeting and being guided by Sean. He is an encouraging and optimistic person, who will find a way to help you succeed. During this meeting, we formulated a plan that would help me attain my high school diploma as quickly as possible, so that I would be able to register my apprenticeship.
We decided my first steps would be to take 4 PLAR assessments, if passed they would count as 2 to 3 credits each. I would do my schooling online, because I work full time, 12 hour night shifts. My first credit would be Math. During the first four weeks of school I passed all four of my PLAR assessments and my Math course, to my great surprise.
I had another meeting with Sean. During this meeting we discussed that I still needed three more credits. Sean told me that if I went through adult co-op, which is an agreement between the school, me, and the company I work for, it would count as two credits, and then I would just need an English course. I was terrified to tell my employer that I was pursuing my high school diploma, especially because I had signed a posting that required my diploma. Sean assured me that everything would be fine. He would have a meeting with my employer and assure them that he felt I could be done in a couple of months with their help.
I have to tell all of you, the day I walked down the hallway to meet with my production manager, my knees were loudly knocking together, kind of like what they are doing right now! I not only had to tell her I was pursuing my high school diploma, I would also have to ask her for her help in attaining it. I was literally terrified. To my great surprise, she was very supportive and agreed to help me in any way she could. After my meeting with my production supervisor, I decided to take my four week vacation from work. I wanted to fully concentrate on my school work on my vacation from work. I would spend eight hours a day on my school work. Whenever I was truly stuck, I would go into the school gym and get Sarah and Joel to help. No matter how silly my questions were, the two of them were always supportive. Sarah and Joel, I truly thank both of you for your help and patience. By the end of my vacation, I had completed all my credits that I required to graduate. I am very proud and happy to report that I am now the very first female registered Millwright Apprentice at my plant. I could not have achieved this without the support of my family and the staff members of the Centre for Lifelong Learning. To my husband and kids, thank you for your love and support, and to all the staff at the Centre for Lifelong Learning thank you for all your help. I could not have ever been able to do this on my own.
In closing, I would like to quote a man who was not a great intellect or visionary, his name was Forrest Gump. The quote was, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!!” Like me, my fellow graduates, you took a chocolate out of that box called life, and man….it is sweet! Thank you, and congratulations every one of you.