Never too late for a diploma

Naugatuck Adult and Continuing Education celebrates graduation

Naugatuck Adult and Continuing Education program facilitator Amy Shea, left, attaches a tassel to Lorelee Willets’ cap prior to the program’s graduation ceremony May 31 at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — For Lorelee Willets, the path to a high school diploma was neither a typical nor an easy one.

The 66-year-old Ansonia resident had to leave high school when she was younger because of family emergencies.

“Then life went on, I got married, and I had kids. I constantly nagged them to stay in school. The whole time I felt like a hypocrite because I didn’t have [my diploma],” Willets said.

That changed on May 31 when Willet, along with 29 of her classmates, graduated from the Naugatuck Adult and Continuing Education program at Naugatuck High School. The students received their diplomas during a commencement ceremony at the high school.

“I worked so hard to get here and I am so proud that I reached this goal,” said Willets before the ceremony. “I love it.”

For John Bookless, a 39-year-old Naugatuck resident, a high school diploma could be the start of a higher education.

Bookless said he left high school before graduating to be a father and start working. When he had the opportunity, he decided to get his diploma.

“It is something important for me to do for myself,” Bookless said. “I don’t really do things like this. It means the world.”

Now that he has his high school diploma, Bookless said he might start taking college courses.

Although the students all had different reasons for pursuing a diploma, they all had one thing in common — pride in what they accomplished.

“I waited for such a long time in my life and now I can finally finish. It’s a big accomplishment,” said Maria Eliana Cole, 53, of Naugatuck.

Naugatuck Adult and Continuing Education Director Heather Pelletier said the program holds a ceremony similar to a typical high school graduation ceremony because the students earned it.

“They are in fact high school graduates and they deserve that moment to cross the stage with the cap and gown and receive the diploma. It is a milestone in everyone’s life. It doesn’t necessarily happen at the end of the K-12 years, but when it happens they have earned the right to cross the stage,” Pelletier said.

“They worked extremely hard to be here this evening. They made a goal for themselves and, this evening, they have all achieved that goal,” Pelletier added during the ceremony.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said the graduates’ accomplishments mean so much because of the obstacles they have overcome in their lives.

“This journey is so personal for each of you and I am sure none of your stories are like one another. From the district, we are just so proud of you for pursuing this path that is different than the path our graduates take,” Locke said.

Mayor N. Warren Hess said there are three keys on the path to success, and the graduates are well on their way.

“You need passion for what you are choosing to do, you need persistence, and you need resilience,” Hess said. “Everyone here has bounced back or has done something to overcome an obstacle. That’s resilience.”