It has been nearly 18 years since Richard Ramsey did not graduate high school as an 18-year-old.
On Friday at the Strand Theatre in downtown Shelbyville, Ramsey rectified that issue, serving as valedictorian of the Excel Center’s graduating class.
Ramsey was one of 22 adults that crossed the Strand stage and received a Core 40 high school diploma that now vastly improves each one of their standing in the working world.
“I overheard several of the kids quietly talking to the folks on stage that their lives are really just beginning,” said Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun, who spoke at the graduation ceremony. “We heard that when we were high school students. These are folks that have a lot of life experience. So now they have the value of the life experience and the value of their high school diploma and really they can do anything they put their mind to because the level of determination these people had to have to get through this process was much greater than anything we experienced.”
Three of the graduates spoke before the large crowd gathered at the Strand Theatre Friday night. Each had their own story to tell of the obstacles that took them off the graduation path and the challenges endured to finish a life goal.
“My biggest issue was I’m really good at learning, I’m not really good at being taught,” said Ramsey after the event. “When they would try to teach me stuff, it just didn’t stick. That’s why I kept getting in trouble and kept getting suspended. And then they would send me to the library and I would just teach myself.”
Ramsey moved on in life without his diploma, sat in on some college courses, started his own special effects makeup team and did other odd jobs but being a teacher was really what he wanted to do – and it could not be done without a high school diploma.
“I showed up to see what (the Excel Center) is about, sat in on a class and thought I would sit here for a class and say, ‘Oh well, it didn’t work out,’” said Ramsey. “I could say, ‘Oh well, I tried,” but I’ve been here ever since.”
Ramsey praised the educational process at the Excel Center for making all the difference in his world.
“It’s absolutely the teachers,” he said. “They teach you in a completely different way now. They find out how you learn and then they teach to you that way. It’s much more personal. They teach you inside and outside the classroom. If the class ends at 4 o’clock they don’t say, ‘Let’s go home.’ They say, ‘What can I help you with now?’ That is so much better.
Taking online courses is next for Ramsey, who wants to return to the Excel Center and become an instructor.
“I am working at Goodwill right now and hopefully next will be college,” he said. “I am going to take Ivy Tech for a little bit and then probably go on to Western Governors University, or somewhere online. I am 35, so going to college is not really an option.”
As each graduate received their diploma, Excel Center director Khalilah Palmer read their educational accomplishments and finished with one of two comments – either the graduate will continue their education or will seek employment.
“When we sat down and started talking about other things we could do that would have an immediate impact, this was at the top of the list,” said DeBaun. “We wanted to do something that was going to be meaningful for those folks who maybe had any number of obstacles in their way. And when we met with the Goodwill people and the Excel Center, this was a natural for us.
The class of 2019-2020 at the Excel Center included Victoria Hotseller, Ashlynn Peters, Richard Ramsey, Jalan Berryhill, Brandon Boles, Kathryn Ratekin (graduated cum laude), Ashley Anderson, John Cox, Shayla Cox, Alexander Hill, Katlynn Miller, Perla Torres, Mercedes Turner, Jackson Tyler (graduated cum laude), Morgan Wainscott, Brittany North, Jenelle Hacker, Demari Keith, Gage Randolph, Eliza Sargent, Cody Spurlin and Jessica Spurlock.