Above: Dr. Rachel DeVaughan, Deputy Executive Director of Programs for the Mississippi Community College Board, was the keynote speaker for the June 23 High School Equivalency graduation ceremony at Hinds Community College.
More than 20 years ago Josephine Rankin left high school without a diploma. But for the sake of her five sons and three daughters, she decided it was time to get that credential and pursue higher education.
“I’m really trying to set the standard to where they would see, ‘Well, Mama waited until we were in high school and went and got her (diploma).’ I just want them to be better than I was. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes, said Rankin, who lives in Vicksburg.
At age 38, she proudly donned a cap and gown for a ceremony to celebrate passing the tests to receive her High School Equivalency Diploma, a process that took her several years to complete.
Rankin was one of nearly 80 adults who participated in a High School Equivalency graduation ceremony at Hinds Community College on June 23.
“I went for my GED in 2014. I got discouraged and I sat out a while,” she said. “I didn’t have motivation. I would get discouraged easily. I went back and put my mind to it.”
She returned in 2018, passing the tests in 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, which delayed her ceremony.
She plans to take classes at Hinds in fall 2022 to study paralegal technology and criminal justice. “I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to get my doctorate,” she promised.
Jacob Cooley of Crystal Springs participating in a graduation ceremony June 23 at Hinds Community College. Cooley received his high school credential. He is with wife Taylor and daughter Jazlynn, 8.
At age 25, Jacob Cooley of Crystal Springs didn’t wait as long to get his high school credential. He credits the intervention of God for turning his life around as he sat in a jail cell for selling drugs.
“It was the Lord who really put it on my heart to come back and change my life. It really wasn’t me. I was in and out of jail. I really wasn’t doing nothing but going down a bad path. He sat me down in a jail cell, and I decided to turn my life around all because of the Lord. He saw something in me, and he brought it out in me,” said Cooley, who now has his own construction business.
He credits the personal attention from Hinds instructors with his success. “If you were willing to put your all into it, they were going to put their all into it,” he said.
Sherry Bellmon, Hinds Vice President for Instruction, Career & Technical Education, praised graduates for sticking with it.
“Opportunity – some people dream of success while others wake up, work hard and actually make it happen. You did it,” Bellmon said. “It is no accident that you are here today. It took hard work, perseverance, studying, sacrificing, studying, sacrificing and more studying. Most of all, passion for what you wanted to accomplish.”
Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik told the graduates he knows they didn’t have it easy. “We have lots of graduations and lots of celebrations but this one is especially poignant to me because I know, for each of you, the sacrifices that you’ve had to make,” he said.
Keynote speaker Dr. Rachel M. DeVaughan, Deputy Executive Director of Programs for the Mississippi Community College Board, told graduates her own story. She was one of six children with a single parent mom and dropped out of high school. She decided to return to school at age 28 when she herself was a single mom working dead-end jobs and trying to put food on the table.
“I know how hard it is for students who continually face academic, socioeconomic, emotional or behavioral challenges to believe that they could be successful, and maybe that was some of you,” she said.
After getting her high school diploma, she enrolled at a Mississippi community college.
“I was terrified. I remember sitting in the desk thinking, ‘What am I doing here? You don’t belong. You have no business furthering your education.’ But deep inside I had a dream that I wanted to be a teacher – go figure,” Dr. DeVaughan said. “That began a 17-year journey of going to school part-time, raising children, working fulltime, being a part of life to finally finish my Ph.D.
She encouraged the graduates not to stop with high school but to enroll in college and continue.
“I challenge you to find your dream. Complete your journey. I encourage you to continue. It’s just the beginning. You own this vision. You own the path set before you,” she said.