GED Graduation Speaker Paulette Brown

Who she is: At 40something, Paulette Brown beat the odds, sucked up her pride, and went back to high school to get her GED credential.

What she does: Months after finishing her degree, she landed a new job working at Duke University in North Carolina. The possibilities for her future are brighter than ever before.

Why she does it: “Having made it through the GED program, I know I can do anything I set my mind to,” she says. “It was tough. But really, the hardest thing was making the decision to push past my fears and finish the high school program. I am so glad that I did.”


By Hope Katz Gibbs

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it,” Jesse Jackson said.

Those words of wisdom and encouragement describe the path taken by some of the millions each year who drop out of high school, but return to get their GED credential.

Life’s not easy for many students who, for a variety of reasons, don’t complete high school as a teen. Below, you’ll read the graduation speech of Paulette Brown. In her mid-40s, she decided the time had come to take control of her life and career and get her GED through the Adult Education Program at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

Today, she has a new job working at Duke University in North Carolina. And, as she knows, the possibilities for her future are brighter than ever before.

“Having made it through the GED program, I know I can do anything I set my mind to,” she says. “It was tough. But really, the hardest thing was making the decision to push past my fears and finish the high school program. I am so glad that I did.”

And now, prepare to be inspired by this 2010 GED graduate.

Graduation speech by Paullette Brown
March 2010

I am honored to be here this evening to celebrate the achievements of the Adult High School Completion Program’s 2009/2010 graduates.

This great achievement required discipline, commitment, and courage.

The discipline: To go to class after a hard day’s work or maybe just after having a bad day.

The commitment: To complete the required homework when there were other things that you could have or wanted to do instead of studying and completing assignments.

The courage: To take the next step to acquire the necessary education to enable you to move forward with your personal and professional goals.

All of these characteristics have empowered everyone that participated in this program. And on this evening, we not only celebrate our accomplishment, but we honor our classmates who may not have been able to pass all of the required subjects but choose to continue until the desired outcome is achieved.

Life is a journey and sometimes the journey is not what you planned, or maybe you didn’t know that a plan was needed.

I was born the sixth child in a family of nine in a single-parent house. My mother died at the age of 41 from cancer. Regardless of the odds against us, I was the only one in my family that did not graduate from high school.

Three days after my 16th birthday I became a mother, and two years later I had my second child. I dropped out of school after my first child was born because I was not prepared or old enough to be a mother. Then 12 years later, I had two more children.

After surviving homelessness, [and] physical and mental abuse, I am still standing. Bruised, but not broken.

Then, one day, I had an epiphany.

I acknowledged the fact that I was required to participate in my destiny, and I began to plan my future.

I enrolled in the GED credential program, and from that day on I knew I was destined to succeed. The teachers and directors of the program — Jocelyn, Ann, and Penny — provided me with the necessary support to ensure my success, and I will be forever grateful for their unwavering belief in me.

My classmates were lively, but resolved to succeed — and that made our time together very interesting. Suffice it to say there was never a boring moment in our program. We met our challenges with purpose and determination.

The distinguishing feature of our class, I believe, was its diversity.

Amongst us were representatives from five ethnic groups [who] ranged in age from late teens to me in my 40s.

I’ll admit that being the oldest person in the class made me a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but I knew that each individual in the room had their own personal reason for being there. I remembered praying to God for guidance, because I knew failure was not an option.

In closing, I would like to share a verse that I carry with me in my purse:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The road to success is not straight,
There is a curve called failure,
A loop called confusion,
Speed bumps called friends,
Red lights called enemies,
Caution lights called family.
You will have flats called jobs,
But, if you have a spare called determination,
An engine called perseverance,
Insurance called faith,
A driver called Jesus,
You will make it to a place called success.

Thank you, and good luck in your future endeavors.

Did you know?

GED graduates:

  • Earn an average of $7,000 more each year than a worker without a GED or diploma, and are much less likely to be unemployed.
  • Are more likely to be employed full-time.
  • Have the opportunity to go to college or technical school.
  • Are qualified for greater responsibilities and promotions.
  • Are likely to receive job-specific technical skills training.
  • Can help their children achieve in school.

The GED credential tests are sponsored and funded by the American Council on Education and the Department of Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All adults enrolling in the Adult Basic Education or GED classes must take the Test of Adult Basic Education assessment in both reading and math. All testing is held each year at the end of the semester.

About the race to GED

“A new version of the program, called the Race to GED, makes it easier than ever to reach your high school educational goal,” says Ann Wyllie, coordinator of the GED program at Fairfax County Public Schools. “It can take as few as three months. This program is designed for students with higher-level skills who need extensive review before taking the GED test.”

Wyllie points to some pretty famous folks who have gone through the program, including comedian Bill Cosby; Dave Thomas of Wendy’s; country/Western singer Gretchen Wilson; actors Michael J Fox; Alicia Silverstone, and Christian Slater; retired U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell; and Richard Carmona, a recent U.S. Surgeon General.

“The General Educational Development (GED) tests give students an opportunity to complete their high-school credential and move forward to post-secondary or training centers,” Wyllie explains. “Once completed, a GED credential shows colleges and employers that a person has the skills that are expected of a high-school graduate.”

The GED tests cover the five subjects that are taught in high school: language arts, both writing and reading; social studies; science; and mathematics. Each test and section is timed based on difficulty.