/ Modified may 23, 2024 4:27 p.m.

Pima County celebrates eight GED’s awarded through adult education program

Recipients overcame significant life challenges including drug addiction and homelessness.

GED grad 1 Probation Program Education Coordinator Melissa Goulart speaks to graduates that received their high school diploma on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Tucson, Ariz.
Hannah Cree

Jose Valencia-Sanchez says that five years ago, he was homeless and battling a fentanyl addiction.

“I give thanks to the people that arrested me. It was a blessing,” he said.

Now after rehab and the support of his probation officers, Valencia was the featured speaker at the county’s LEARN Adult Education Program graduation.

He spoke to dozens of family members and teachers, many of them shedding tears and holding up phones for family members who could only attend on FaceTime.

Valencia said the arrest that sent him to jail for ten months changed his life, and now he’s proud of what he and his classmates have overcome.

“I’m kind of glad that I have the past that I have because I’ve become the person I am today…I just feel strong about myself,” he said.

Just a few days after officially receiving his high school diploma, Valencia said he starts classes next week at Pima Community College to start his plumber’s certificate on a Pell Grant.

“I used to work in plumbing,” he said. “So having experience and getting my certificate it’s going to open a lot of doors for me.”

Yesennia Gonzalez, another graduate, has two daughters who graduated from high school in 2022 and 2023. She said they inspired her to finally complete the program after previously trying in 2016.

“It took me freakin’ forever, but I’m here,” she said.

GED grad 2 VIEW LARGER Yesennia Gonzalez shows a picture of an oil painting she did of her daughter. Now that she has received her GED, Gonzalez hopes to become a well-known fine artist one day.
Hannah Cree

Gonzalez said it took a long time to figure out how she learned best, and that her time in the county’s adult education program helped her see that education looks different for everyone.

“Even if something happened in life that caused you to drop out or caused you to struggle with finishing school, whether it's credits or life, you can still go back,” she said.

Gonzalez said she now plans to get her associate’s degree from Pima Community College and pursue her passion for fine art.

Eight students in total with similar life experiences celebrated graduation today in the Adult Education Program through the county’s Probation Department.

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