HSE Valedictorian on Achieving Dreams, Living with Passion

HSE Valedictorian Sydney Mateo
Rebecca A. Eckland

On Friday July 12, High School Equivalency (HSE) Program Valedictorian Sydney Mateo experienced several firsts: she gave her first public speech, she received her first academic credential and for the first time, she is truly ready for the next chapter of her life. Mateo is one of 49 graduates who, through the HSE program, obtained their GED or HiSet high school equivalency credential and are moving on with their lives. 

The ceremony witnessed the success of students aged 17-60, 33% of whom also participated in the English Language Learners (ELL) program, and nearly half (49%) who are moving on to a TMCC degree or certificate program. 

“This program not only helps our students but also others in the students’ families and in our community,” said ABE Instructor Specialist Linda Schneider-Erger. “By helping one student, we reach so many others. Now these students will be able to help their children with homework, they can find better careers—our entire community benefits from their decision to take this important step.”

Mateo’s Journey

Born to teen parents, Mateo faced a challenging home life, so school was a welcome refuge. However, when she was 14 years old, her father made the decision to take her out of school so that she could babysit a younger sibling. “I began the 9th grade, but I never completed it,” she said. “School had been my happy place. It felt like the ultimate failure to leave. For years, I wanted to go back but it was an obstacle and I thought I’d never make it.”

When Mateo turned sixteen, she emancipated herself from her parents and became a teen parent herself. By the time she was 18, she was a mother to two children and she worked a full-time job working at a call center. “I really excelled at work, and they started asking me to do more.”  No matter how full her schedule, Mateo began to feel like something was missing. Finally, the demands of answering phone call after phone call from upset customers took its toll: Mateo put in her two weeks notice, set aside her doubts and with the full support of her husband, decided to pursue her dream. She was enrolled in TMCC’s HSE program by the following week. 

Going back to school wasn’t easy, but Mateo immediately knew she had made the right decision. HSE Instructor Schneider-Erger (who conducted the weeklong orientation) inspired Mateo. “She told me that I was making the right choices,” said Mateo, who admired her diverse classmates who, like Mateo, came back to their educational journeys after experiences and years that had challenged them.

Learning to trust her abilities would be Mateo’s biggest challenge, who remembers telling Schneider-Erger that she was nervous about writing. “She just told me to write her an essay right then—right in front of her.” When Mateo handed her the paper, Schneider-Erger read it and told Mateo she had nothing to worry about. The free tutoring also helped Mateo in subjects in which she felt she needed additional assistance.

Mateo obtained her HiSet in April. The program has helped her to take the next steps, which included enrolling in the Workforce Development and Community Education (WDCE) Clinical Medical Assistant Certification course, which Mateo is on track to complete this August. 

Her daughter and son, who are 8 and 6 respectively, are inspired by their mother’s journey. “We do our homework together at the dining room table,” said Mateo. “When I come home in my scrubs, they ask me to take their blood pressure.” Mateo’s son is especially interested in what his mom is studying and asks her about the names of bones.

Yet, the key to Mateo’s success lies in the ABE/HSE/ELL program, which encouraged her from the beginning. “The instructors have so much respect for their adult students,” Mateo said. “If your work schedule changed, they would help you to switch to the day or night classes if that would enable you to keep going.” Despite these supports, it hasn’t been an easy journey—raising two children and maintaining a household while attending classes and tutoring sessions has had its challenging moments, but Mateo says she is grateful for all of it. 

ABE/HSE Graduates Cross the Stage

In addition to honoring the 49 graduates with the traditional ceremony of Pomp and Circumstance, those in attendance listened to keynote speaker Vincent R. Solis, President of Western Nevada College, who recounted his academic journey which, like the graduates present, began with earning a GED.  The graduates were also given a certificate signed by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recognizing their accomplishment. 

As Valedictorian, Mateo offered words of wisdom to her classmates who crossed the graduation stage.  “In general, doing anything like this in life is difficult,” she said. “It was my passion—it was like living in a whirlwind. But, it was a beautiful whirlwind that I created. It was a leap of faith, I guess, but at some point, you have to be willing to jump off the diving board and go for your dreams.”

To others still working toward their dreams, she offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid. It’s easy to be afraid of failing and falling. But, failure is just another part of your success story.”

For more information about Adult Basic Education, English Language Learners or the HSE Preparation Program, contact the department at 775-829-9044.