It was a proud day for family members, friends, staff and educators as they stood to applaud the most recent graduating class of the YWCA National Capital Area’s Adult Education and Training program.

The Feb. 8 commencement, held at the Next Step Public Charter School in northwest Washington, D.C., marked a milestone; the class of 2013 was the largest graduating group in the program’s history. Dressed in vibrant orange caps and gowns, the 21 graduates marched in procession to “Pomp and Circumstance” through a crowd of supporters to the stage to receive their diplomas.

“This is a historical moment,” said YWCA NCA CEO Tamara Smith. “It is a time to recognize and celebrate their success.”

Established in January 2010, the Adult Education and Training program is an out-of-school day and evening program which offers classes to District residents seeking their GED. With comprehensive courses in mathematics, writing, literacy, and workforce readiness, the program is designed to help individuals 18 years and older with GED preparation and attainment, as well as post-secondary education and employment.

According to the American Council on Education and the “Defeat Poverty DC” campaign, nearly “one in five D.C. adults above the age of 16 lack basic literacy skills, and over 90,000 D.C. adults lack a high school credential.”

“With limited basic math, reading, and digital literacy skills, residents have difficulty following written instruction, completing paperwork, communicating effectively, or helping their children with their homework,” said Smith.

“For some, it took years; for others, only months, but it doesn’t matter,” Smith said at commencement. “What matters is that you all made the commitment to yourselves and to others. There is power in possibilities. Continue to believe in yourself and we will continue to believe in you.”

Karen M. Johnson, vice president of the YWCA NCA’s Board of Directors and vice president of community engagement with United Healthcare delivered the keynote speech. Sharing words of wisdom and inspiration, she included in her speech excerpts from the classic Dr. Seuss book “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” encouraging the graduates to continue following their dreams and set goals for their futures.

Graduate Bryant Williams, 21, of northeast D.C. entered the program in January 2013.

“It feels good. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it,” he said. “But without God, none of this would have been possible.”

With his newfound aspiration and drive, Williams has enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia and will begin studying for a Bachelor’s degree in business administration this summer.

To others who are hesitant about returning to school to earn their GED, Williams said, “I tell people, don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be scared. I used to be scared too, but you can’t be afraid.”

“It was a journey and the support I received was great,” said graduate Garfield Williams, 50, of northwest D.C. “You need all the support you can get and the YWCA helped me out with that. I had great tutors and without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Williams began the program in July, and is currently enrolled at UDC and hopes to become a personal trainer.

“You have to believe in yourself and never give up,” he said.

Graduate Sylvie Ndanga, 38, of northeast D.C. started the program in September. As a wife, a mother of three, and with a full time job as a security guard for Secure America, Ndanga knew that completing the program and earning her GED would be a challenge.

“It was hard, having to be up early, sometimes not getting home until midnight, but it was worth it,” she said.

Overcome with emotion as she took to the podium, Ndanga thanked her husband and young children who sat cheering in the audience.

“It’s the beginning, it’s a new beginning,” she said.

Ndanga plans to continue her education at the University of Maryland University College and earn a Bachelor’s degree in business.

“It’s never too late,” Ndanga said smiling. “You’re never too old, you’re never too busy. Fix your goals. You can do it.”