The Excel Center’s graduation ceremony was filled with stories of perseverance.
On Thursday at the Strand Theatre in downtown Shelbyville, 28 students of varying ages and life challenges graduated from the Excel Center with high school diplomas.
“Most of our students have had some sort of barrier in their life,” said Shonda Russell, Lead Coach at the Shelbyville Excel Center and emcee for the graduation ceremony. “For them to persevere and keep fighting and keep going for what they know can potentially make them better situated for their future is undeniable. It is awesome.”
The Class of 2022 salutatorian Candice Miller (main photo) attended three high schools, participated in a home-schooling program and tried G.E.D. classes … twice.
“Those paths didn’t work for me,” said Miller, who spoke at the graduation ceremony. “I knew six different paths were not right for me. So each time I backtracked, licked my wounds and tried another approach. I took a seventh path that led to the Excel Center and there was no turning back.”
Miller continued her education through Zoom classes thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the birth of her son which altered the learning environment at home.
“My path through the Excel Center has been wonderful,” she said. “My teachers worked around my schedule and even taught me when I was traveling in a semi.
“When I was getting my days and nights messed up with a baby in the house, they were patient with me. I want to give a big thank you to the staff for walking with me on this journey, especially when the path wasn’t as straight as I hoped it would be.”
Tara Lewin (photo above) was forced to abandon her childhood and fend for herself after her father died when she was 12 years old. She moved out on her own and dodged DCS (Department of Child Services) for over a month to avoid foster care.
“School was not an option at that time,” said Lewin as she addressed her fellow graduates Thursday. “I did try to go back multiple times.”
Four years later she moved in with her grandmother and started to turn her life around. Not long after, her mother passed away.
“Being in school was too embarrassing,” said Lewin. “I continued to try and survive without education.”
Lewin was working a demanding full-time job when she enrolled at the Excel Center at age 19. Now she is engaged, owns a home and has the satisfaction of being a high school graduate.
“It took a lot of change and effort to make my graduation night possible,” she said. “In addition to attending school, I worked a full-time job and purchased a home with my now fiancé while trying to take care of my physical and mental health.
“It wasn’t the most traditional path to follow but it’s my journey and I know my parents would be proud I followed through and made a life for myself.”
The graduation class of 2022 are Jayna Alderson, Miles Baldwin, Samantha Bradfield, Dajuan Butler (photo above), Alicia Cox, Rory Dean, Sara Dick, Kierra Ebbert, Isaiah Frazier, Andrea Glendenning, Gavin Glendenning, Caitlyn Grimme, Tressie Hess, Zane Hunter, Tara Lewin, Keirra Macklin, Michael Matthew (class valedictorian), Devin McCall, Kaitlynn Messmore, Candice Miller, Viridiana Orozco Degollado, Kieara Reynolds, Madalyn Sangster, Caleb Spurlock, Emily Wendland, Jordyn Wood, Danin York, Mireya Zeigler.
The ceremony is not only emotional for the graduates but also the staff of the Excel Center in Shelbyville.
“We develop attachments with our students,” said Russell. “We coach them. We teach them. We are their shoulders to cry on and we laugh with them.
“To see them finally get to where they want to be is joyful.”