ST. THOMAS — It took a lot for the Adult Continuing Education Program and GED Proud, Resilient and Dedicated Class of 2019 to graduate on Sunday, but the extra effort and determination was worth it, as they proudly walked the stage to receive their diplomas during a commencement ceremony held at the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium.

Forty-one received their high school diplomas, while four received their GED certification in the joint ceremony.

The Adult Continuing Education (ACE) program allows adults to resume their education during night classes to earn their diploma. The graduates were of all ages and from all backgrounds, one commuting nightly from St. John. For all of them, this diploma represents a second chance at improving their lives.

Each graduate has their own unique story, but each is a tale of sacrifice and commitment. Valedictorian Julia Lapomarede, originally from Dominica, had taken a course to become a clinical medical assistant. When she went to renew her license, it was determined that her high school diploma came from an unaccredited online school, so she had to enroll in the ACE program. She was proud and excited to have both of her parents at the ceremony.

“It was a challenge, especially being married and working fulltime, but I knew it was important. I had to make the sacrifice and my husband was very supportive,” she said before the ceremony. “You alone are walking this journey, but it’s easier when you have a firm foundation of family and church family. Getting an education gives you freedom. You now have a choice. Wherever you go, that’s a friend that will always be with you.”

As valedictorian, Lapomarede received a full scholarship to the University of the Virgin Islands. She plans to study nursing.

Salutatorian Jean Liberny also received a UVI scholarship. He already had some credits from his school in Haiti, so he was able to complete the program in three semesters. He completed the program while continuing his full-time job as a painter. He will go on to study in UVI’s entrepreneurship program, and he hopes to create his own business focused on investment. He urges those still in the program not to give up.

“To the members of my Haitian community, we are a large population, but we craved a better life and we came here at ACE for it,” Liberny said in his speech. “Please continue to attend your classes and to do your very best, as education is the passport to our future.”

You are never too old to learn. At 66, Wilmoth Hodge also received a high school diploma. A native of St. Kitts, Hodge is a Ranger security guard who started the program in 2016 and placed fourth in his class. He received a full senior citizen scholarship to the university.

“You have to apply yourself and have a determined mind,” he said. “I wanted to be a lawyer but that course isn’t offered on St. Thomas. So I went to criminal justice and business because they both have a little law experience in them.”

ACE Principal Desha Powell said farewell to not only the graduating class, but also to her position at the ACE program. She goes on the become a deputy superintendent for the V.I. Education Department. Incoming Alicia Leerdam takes her place as principal.

“You’ll still see me around,” Powell promised in her speech during what she called a ceremony of second chances. “I will continue to be an advocate for this very important educational service in our community.”