101 graduates and one proud, grieving mom granted diplomas in Huron Valley ceremony – Hometown Life

Posted: June 5, 2020 at 4:47 pm


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Harbor High holds drive-through graduation for its alternative school students on June 3, 2020 at its White Lake campus Wochit

High school diplomas were collected by 101 unconventional graduates and one proud, grieving mother on Wednesday night in the Huron Valley School district.

Everything about the 2020 Harbor High School and adult education commencement was unusual in this year of coronavirus.

In a drive-through ceremony, students popped out of their vehicles to pick up their diplomas from a table and stepped on to an outdoor stage while only the family they could fit in the car clapped and cheered.

Also applauding were school faculty spaced six feet apart and who mourned the hugs they couldnt give to their students whose paths to graduation were the most noteworthy of all, overcoming obstacles that even a pandemic could not overshadow.

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Every single one of the kids in the alternative high school and adult ed are overcoming something difficult, usually loss or adversity in their personal life that is really hard for them, Ben Dowker, director of the alternative high school and adult education for Huron Valley, said. They didnt think they were going to make it (to graduation).

One of the graduates honored Wednesday didnt make it to the stage, but his mother did in an exceptionally emotional moment.

Joe Wagner, 18, completed the necessary coursework for his diploma from Harbor High School last September. One day later, he was crossing Highland Road in White Lake when he was struck by a vehicle and died.

Christy Wagnerclutched her sons diploma as well as the Courage Award which staff bestowed upon Joe when she stepped on to the commencement stage.

Christy Wagner of Milford accepted her son Joe Wagner's diploma during Harbor High's commencement on June 3, 2020. Joe Wagner was killed in an accident last September, a day after he completed his coursework.(Photo: Courtesy of Huron Valley Schools)

It was bittersweet, the Milford mom said. Of course I felt sad that he wasnt here to accept all this, but me and my husband are honored to accept it for him. We promised we would always celebrate him like he is here.

Joe, who worked full-time for a construction firm and had overcome many personal struggles to achieve his diploma, was all about family, Christy said.He was also survived by his father, Larry, and his younger brother, Connor.

The motto that it takes a village to raise a child rings true to Christy, who said Joes village included Dowker and Karen Gerard, Harbor High teacher and adult ed student advisor, who she said feels like family to her.

Christysaid she plans to take her sons graduation cap to Dowker and Gerard to sign. At the graduation, she released a balloon signed by the family.

Larry and Christy Wagner hold a picture of their late son, Joe and his high school diploma on June 3, 2020.(Photo: Courtesy of the Wagner family)

Joe, who loved to be the center of attention, would have loved the fanfare.

I left there feeling like he accomplished something and we helped him accomplish it, she said. Joe had no shame in his game, he would have hammed it up and let them know he was there, and his personality would have come out for sure.

Jessica Worden, 35, finally crossed the finish line at the Huron Valley adult ed commencement, surmounting obstacles that make the pandemic seem like hardly a blip on her lifes radar.

The Waterford resident dropped out of school when she was 17 to raise her sisters baby in order to keep him from going into foster care. She had custody of her nephew for the next decade.

In 2016, Jessica and her mother, Jena Marek, enrolled in the Huron Valley adult ed program to finish their high school education together, but Jessica was foiled by a dog bite, which was a blessing in disguise.

The bite sustained from her Great Dane when she got between it and another dog resulted in 28 stitches and damaged nerves. While she was being treated at the hospital with her husband Tyg by her side, he suffered cardiac arrest, leading to the discovery of a heart condition for which he is now treated.

In the fall of 2017she enrolled to try again.But two months laterwas called upon to help her brother-in-law, a widower with two young sons, one of whom was discovered to have a brain tumor. Surgery was successful, but tragedy lay ahead.

In May 2018, another nephew was murdered in Pontiac, leading her to spend a great deal of time in court for the trial and leaving her feeling defeated about life and her education.

And then I just gave up for a little bit, because I had already tried three times to go, and my Mom was like, You have to give it one more try, Worden recalled. I felt it wasnt meant for me to go to school anymore. Every time I start, something horrific in my life happens. What more can I take that is going to happen?

Last fall, she dug in again, and then coronavirus arrived in March threatening yet another derailment of her dream.

Jessica Worden celebrates her high school graduation during a commencement ceremony held by Huron Valley Schools on June 3, 2020.(Photo: Courtesy of Huron Valley Schools)

Worden, who is a home healthcare worker and raising nephew Dayvin, could only look in stunned disbelief at the email that said school was closed.

I thought, Oh my God. Seriously? Here we go, its really not meant for me to finish school, she recalled.

But a worldwide pandemic was the one enemy she would finally defeat, and even though the graduation ceremony was way out of the ordinary, she said she wouldnt change it.

With everything I have been through, it was everything and more than I could have asked for, she said. Because I didnt go through school the traditional way, why have a traditional ceremony?

True to form in a life that hasnt been easy, her car was in the shop and she and husband Tyg pulled up to the drive-thru ceremony in a rented 2020 GMC Terrain, with nephew Dayvin, as well as two nieces.

She got out of the car, wearing her cap and tassel adorned with a passage from Proverbs, She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.

Tyg Worden holds wife Jessica Worden, who displays the top of her graduation cap on June 3, 2020.(Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Worden)

In her excitement to get to the stage as Gerard announced her as the adult ed valedictorian, nearly forgot to grab her diploma and carnation from the table until reminded by Dowker.

She recalls proudly the clapping and cheering she received from the staff, the people who had pushed for her, and believed in her even when she didnt believe in herself.

I felt like a star, they absolutely made me feel like a starI felt amazing, she said. I felt like a 30-year goal was accomplished, I felt wonderful. It almost made me feel like everything I had to endure and go through was worth every bit of it.

She reflectedback on 2016, when she had first stepped into the Huron Valley adult ed building in White Lake and told her mother and Gerard that she didnt belong there, that she was too old.

Gerard responded with words that have stayed with her.

She said, Youre never too old, its never too late to go back and finish something, Worden recalled.

Those words, along with gestures like the staff sending her flowers following her husbands heart troubles, when she was again out of school and at the lowest point of her life, or just lending an ear when she needed it, are not forgotten and never will be.

Worden, who recently accepted a job at Fords Livionia transmission plant and plans to attend college to become a social worker, cant wait to return to see the Harbor High staff when it is safe and hug those who helped her succeed.

Gerard looks forward to that day.

I know that good things are in store for them in the future, she said. They showed determination and courage to even walk through the doors of this building to complete their education and by willing to adapt to the current situation, they showed the inner strength they had and I know they will have success in their future because of their ability to do that.

Contact reporter Susan Bromley at sbromley@hometownlife.com or 517-281-2412. Follow her on Twitter @SusanBromley10.

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101 graduates and one proud, grieving mom granted diplomas in Huron Valley ceremony - Hometown Life

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June 5th, 2020 at 4:47 pm

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