Twenty-six students graduated from the Niles Adult Education Program Tuesday night. (Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER)
Twenty-six students graduated from the Niles Adult Education Program Tuesday night. (Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER)

Archived Story

Adult grads can finally say, ‘I did it’

Published 11:04pm Tuesday, May 25, 2010

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

Nicole McCurry was chasing her daughter through the halls at Michiana Christian Embassy Tuesday night. Decked out in her shiny navy blue graduation cap and gown, the 33-year-old mother of two never stops parenting – even on her graduation day.

Her 4-year-old daughter, Dakota, who was excitedly bouncing around the church, and her other daughter, Toni, were the reasons that she decided to go back to school last summer.

That and the tough Michigan economy.

McCurry and her fiance, Rich Lockery, lost their jobs when the Michigan automotive industry fell flat on its face a couple years ago.

It forced McCurry, a Niles resident, to make a decision to go after something she had not considered since she was a teenager – a high school diploma.

And on Tuesday night, she was among 26 adults who received that crucial document through the Niles Community Schools Adult Education Program. The commencement also included 45 others receiving their GEDs.

McCurry dropped out of high school when she was just 15.

“I was young and stupid and thought I didn’t have to go to school,” she said.

She was working at a hot dog restaurant in Grand Rapids at the time.

“I thought I needed money more than education,” she said.

McCurry went on to have two children and bounced around to different jobs, landing at an automotive manufacturer. But when the automotive industry tanked, she found herself without work and a family to provide for.

“I saw the ad in the paper last summer and decided I need to get this done,” she said. “Not just for me but for my kids.”

McCurry was part of a Michigan Works program that helped provide her family with transitional housing when she was homeless and will now help her get further training, now that she has her diploma.

“In September I am going to do my EMT training. I’ve been wanting to do that since 16 years old,” she said with a smile.

McCurry was just one of many stories on Tuesday night, filled with smiles, tears and words of encouragement.

“We’ve seen more stories of people losing their jobs and needing to go back and get their education than ever,” John Fonash, an instructor at the Adult Education Program said.

Rich Klem, the director of the Adult Education Program, said the graduates realize the state of the Michigan economy but are prepared to pursue further education or enter the workforce.

“This is the hardest working class we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “Very determined.”

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