High School Equivalency (HSE) Valedictorian, Jenteal Sielaff said that she hopes to one day have a PhD hanging on her wall, but her most prized piece of paper will be the diploma she has just earned this academic year.
“My educational journey is just beginning,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, and ‘thank yous’ would barely scratch the surface. I want to act out my gratitude by continuing to pursue my aspirations and by holding on to the most important thing I learned. I am enough.”
In her Valedictorian address, Sielaff said that when she was asked to write the speech, her first reaction was that she was not a “word person,” and bad at writing. That has now changed.
“I heard (my instructor) Linda’s voice in my head telling me, ‘You are a word person—you are capable,’” Sielaff added.
After the speeches by Sielaff and the Salutatorian Michelle Viegas Inga, TMCC President Karin Hilgersom, PhD presented the keynote. Dr. Hilgersom encouraged the graduates to find a career that they love to go to each day, and to be resilient.
Then she made a very special announcement—one that is monumental to the grads and their families. A new program will pay each new diploma holder's TMCC Fall Semester college tuition in full.
Graduates cheered more loudly as the reality sunk in.
Then as they crossed the stage, many stopped at the podium to stretch their diploma high above them, thank families and children, or express gratitude to instructors and to God. Salutatorian Viegas said that her daughter walked her through her first application to the HSE Preparation Program.
Graduates Number 57
Sielaff has recently moved out of state, but sent her speech to be read at the ceremony by Adult Basic Education (ABE) Coordinator Rain Donohue.
“Somewhere along the way I believed the lie that I was not smart enough—I would never be capable of achieving anything I wanted,” Sielaff wrote in her speech. “I felt stuck and I created blocks in my life. I told myself I didn’t want to go to college so it wouldn’t matter that I was home schooled and didn’t graduate high school. I identified with my disabilities. I am dyslexic. I am depressed. I am ADD. I am addicted. All of these are real things I struggle with, but today they do not define me.”
She wrote that she observed individuals in the HSE program striving to achieve their diploma in order to set examples for their children, get a better job, or realize their dream of going to college.
“Whatever the case, you did it—we did it,” Sielaff noted. “I’ve never been this proud of myself before. And I’m incredibly impressed and proud of everyone who has done the Adult Basic Education program and is graduating today. I couldn’t have done this without the help and encouragement of everyone at TMCC.”
Sielaff said that she may not remember all of the names of those important to her achieving the diploma, but will remember faces, all of whom made a big impact in her life.
“You inspire me,” she said. “You push me to be my best self. Thank you. Thank you.”
Festivities, a Moving Celebration
In addition to the keynote, remarks were presented by Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Marie Murgolo-Poore, Ph.D. Also, a musical selection “For We Wish You Music” was sung by the community chorus, Sierra Nevada Masterworks Chorale. HSE Specialist Linda Schneider-Erger helped with introductions at the podium.
Workforce Development and Community Education Amy Williams and ABE Program Director Cynthia Pierrott presented the graduates. With a big smile, Williams shook each grad's hands and encouraged those willing to say a few words at the microphone.
“We are individuals from different paths of life,” Sielaff wrote in her speech. “I finally feel that I can be myself. I don’t have to fit in an uncomfortable box anymore. And you all can be yourselves. We are free to be our best selves.”
For more information about Adult Basic Education, English Language Learners (ELL/ESL), or the HSE Preparation Program, contact ABE at 775-829-9044.