It’s as much a celebration of accomplishment as it is of education.
Graduates from Billings School District 2’s Adult Education program will receive their general equivalency diplomas in a 7 p.m. ceremony today at the Lincoln Center in downtown Billings.
For Jason Williams and Ramona Macias, who’ll graduate tonight, the GEDs they’ve earned were especially hard-won. Both will receive the Faculty Award for their efforts to finish the program.
High school dropout
Williams, 38, grew up in Great Falls and dropped out of high school when he was 16. Almost immediately, he skipped town and moved to Seattle, where he stayed for the next 12 years.
“When Jason came to us, he lacked focus but he had desire,” said Norene Peterson, Williams’ language arts teacher. “His life was in an uproar.”
Last May, Williams’ younger brother Jerod Williams was choked to death in Great Falls by a close friend, Jaydee Haagenson. The news devastated the family. Jason Williams returned to Billings where their mother was living to help take care of his brother’s sons, Kade, 10, and Cugar, 6.
Amid all the trauma, Williams decided he needed to finally get his GED. He passed the test in November.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to finish,” he said.
With his GED in hand, he was able to enroll in Montana State University Billings in January to get his certified nursing assistant certification. However, the past year of his life has had a profound and surprising effect on him.
“I wanted to be a nurse,” he said. “But after all the tragedy, the last thing I wanted to do was take care of people.”
Williams has since enrolled with Sage, a national truck-driving school.
The Williams family is still trying to come to terms with Jerod’s death. Last week, the Great Falls Tribune reported that Haagenson had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of mitigated deliberate homicide. He had initially been charged with deliberate homicide.
Trying since 2003
For Macias, 42, earning her GED has been a yearslong struggle with math. She’s been trying since 2003 to earn her diploma. When she first enrolled seven years ago, she took a month of classes and decided she was ready to take the GED. She aced all the sections of the test except math.
When she decided finally to go after her GED, she pushed her two younger sisters to do the same. They passed, and they pushed Macias to stick with it. She took the math portion of the test again a year later and failed. She tried one more time in 2006 and failed again.
“I got discouraged,” she said.
“Her test anxiety was just overwhelming,” said Rose Steiner, Macias’ math teacher.
Steiner noted that each time Macias took the math portion of the test, her score improved but she got increasingly discouraged. Steiner knew Macias would eventually prevail if she could just be convinced to keep trying.
When Macias was 14, her family moved to Mexico and she attended high school there. She eventually graduated and the family moved back to Montana when her mother died. Macias later learned that most places wouldn’t accept her diploma from Mexico. If she wanted to earn any kind of postsecondary education training, she’d need to take the GED.
She now works at Billings Clinic as a phlebotomist and needed the GED to finish the phlebotomy certification process.
So she went back in October to try one more time to beat the math portion of the test and overcome the testing anxiety that had developed over the last seven years.
“She worked on sample test questions over and over,” Steiner said.
When she sat down to take the test one more time, Macias scored 80 points higher than the minimum score required. It was a personal victory that was deeply satisfying, she said.
“I’m done with math,” she said, laughing.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.