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Whitefield Student Receives First “Maine Diploma” in Blaine House Ceremony
New law allows state Education Department to award diplomas to students who have experienced disruptions in their education
July 24, 2008
AUGUSTA – In front of an audience of family, friends, educators and others, Education Commissioner Susan A. Gendron awarded the first-ever “Maine Diploma” to Chelsea Edgar of Whitefield. Gendron issued the Maine Department of Education high school diploma in a ceremony at the Blaine House Thursday morning.
A law passed by the Legislature in June 2007 allows the Department to issue a diploma to students who have experienced educational disruption, such as from hospitalization, homelessness, or incarceration. Students must demonstrate that they meet the content standards of the Maine Learning Results. The diploma is intended for students who meet the necessary requirements, but are not able to meet the graduation requirements of their local school system.
“Chelsea is truly an exemplary model of our young people,” Gendron said. “She exemplifies the qualities, knowledge and passion we hope to see in every learner.”
Edgar faced a rigorous review of her educational record and had to answer questions before a panel of experts. She was required to show that she had met the content standards of the Maine Learning Results standards. Gendron said she did that and more.
“She blew their socks off,” she said.
Edgar spoke at the emotional ceremony, which included a processional featuring Pomp and Circumstance, singing by the Department’s DOE RE ME’s repertory ensemble, and a song written and sung in tribute to Edgar by Cliff Gelina, who also followed a non-traditional path to high school graduation.
“Today is not just about me,” Edgar told the audience. “This law is not something put into place just to show that it’s there. To me, this law is an opportunity.”
“I’m a student who, for various reasons, needed another educational opportunity than regular high school,” she said. She completed her studies in a program designed by the Union 132 superintendent’s office for students needing a different learning environment than a traditional school setting.
A polished speaker, Edgar used the opportunity to speak about “alternative education” and the stigma that often accompanies it.
“It does not mean we’re slow, or stupid,” she said. “It means that we learn differently… I truly believe more people would succeed in education if there were less stigma about alternative education. We all may learn differently, but we all have the same need for an education.”
Edgar now plans to enroll at Kennebec Valley Community College in the fall.
Ann Weisleder, chair of the Maine State Board of Education, also spoke at the ceremony.
“We know that all learners are not the same and that each walks a different path while traveling through public education,” said Weisleder. “Today another student has arrived at one destination in education, the high school graduation ceremony. How fortunate we are in the world of education to pause and celebrate the destinations and applaud the new beginnings. Today is also a beginning for our graduate. The path to lifelong learning and success is opening in front of her.”
Video of the entirety of Chelsea Edgar’s remarks can be found on WCSH 6's website.
Draft text of Chelsea's graduation speech:
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me begin by saying how honored I am to stand before you and receive this diploma. However, for me this day is about a lot more than me getting my diploma. Though it’s meaning to me is unmatched. Today is not about my one diploma, but the future for students in similar situations. Today is about giving chances and I know many people have been waiting not just to see me succeed, but to see this new law not just as something put into place just to be able to say that it's there. But to bring its potential into the light and make use of the opportunity that it has given us. To me this law is about more than opportunity but passage through a roadblock that has stood in my way for over a year now.
I am a student who for various reasons needed an educational option other than regular high school. In other words, I needed an alternative. Fortunately, I found the perfect program, which worked out of my local superintendent's office. Through this alternative program I gained confidence and though learning was never my issue, I found my basic skills improving, I was able to challenge myself without fear of failing, and most importantly I was able to grow as a person. That is what alternative education did for me when there seemed to be no other option.
So in light of that, one of the most important things for me to address today is the stigma surrounding alternative education. Some, when they hear the term automatically think of words like slow, stupid, incapable, bad work ethic, sometimes even violent. Though the exact translation of alternative is different, that does not mean different automatically means bad. I do not deny that our programs have our share of behavioral issues, but we have no more, or no worse than you would find in regular high school. Attending Alternative Education does not mean we are stupid, slow, or any of those things. It means that we learn differently. That with all the social pressures and expectations we could not necessarily conform to standardized education. As a student I have attended both a regular high school and Alternative program. I can honestly say I would have squeaked by in regular high school, but over-coming my pre-judgment of Alternative education I have not only gained the best education I could have hoped to receive, but have succeed twice as well as I would have in regular high school. And not because I am stupid, incapable, or violent, but because I learn differently.
I truly believe more young adults would succeed in their educations if there was more belief and less judgment of Alternative Education and if people simply did not have to feel ashamed for asking for help. As a culture, we spend too much time concentrating on the things that make us different, when we should be concentrating on the things that make us the same, and though we all may learn differently we all have the same need for a good education.
Because of this doubt, and all the assumptions of Alternative education I almost did not receive my diploma, which almost prevented me from starting college in the fall, ultimately almost preventing a perfectly capable and motivated individual from growing and contributing to society. Thankfully, I was giving a chance to share my work and progress because of this law. To show that I had not only met the requirements but was a very accomplished individual. My main objective is to share with you a real situation when giving someone a positive chance can result in someone being motivated to do positive things with that chance.
The most important thing that we have in this world besides each other is simply faith. And I know I am truly blessed that all of these people had faith in Alterative education because without it I would not be here today. And my only hope is that this diploma doesn't end with me.
I give my sincerest thank to the First Lady, the commissioner, and the others who participated in this project, and all the work that went into putting together this event today.
Also today I do not stand here a naive child but a well educated young woman and I would like to give thanks to those who have helped me become the person I am today and those who have been with me throughout the whole experience; to my family and friends who have supported me, to those like Mr. Boynton and Mrs. Rita Tran, who have helped me learn and grow. To Deanne and all the great people at the career center for their extreme dedication and aid and last but not definitely not least all of those who were part of the task force whose hardwork and belief made this diploma possible.
To me this diploma is more than a piece of paper, but a tool. A tool that I can use to better my future and to better the future for those to come. A very wise woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Thanks everyone again so much for this opportunity.
David Connerty-Marin, Communications Director, Maine Department of Education 207-624-6880
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