On Dec. 3, 88 residents were awarded an upgrade, District of Columbia State Diploma from the city’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), at a graduation ceremony. The ceremony at the Ira Aldridge Theater at Howard University in Northwest D.C. was attended by 200 people.

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2017 OSSE graduates. (Courtesy Photo-Fred Lewis of OSSE)

The master of ceremonies was Antoinette S. Mitchell, the assistant superintendent of Postsecondary and Career Education for OSSE. She was joined by Jennifer Niles, the District’s deputy mayor for education; D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large); D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang; and two D.C. State Board of Education members, Mary Lord (At Large) and Kamili Anderson (Ward 4).

Kang told the graduates that they should be proud of what they accomplished. “You got this diploma while taking care of your families and working,” Kang said. “You should take a minute to celebrate what you have done but tomorrow you should continue your interest in professional learning. There are opportunities with the University of the District of Columbia and apprenticeships, and we at OSSE will support your career and college dreams.”

On Jan., 20, the D.C. State Board of Education approved OSSE’s request to award a state high school diploma to the city’s adult learners who have passed the GED exam successfully or filled the requirements for the National External Diploma Program (NDEP) since January 2014. Those GED holders before January 2014 aren’t eligible to participate in the upgrade.

Since the ruling went into effect, 550 residents have been issued a state diploma. The state diploma allows residents to qualify for all accredited U.S. colleges and universities and they are eligible to participate in job training programs that mandate the credential.

One of the graduates was Haneef Davenport, the first resident to qualify for the D.C. state diploma in 2014. “This is very exciting and I have worked very hard for this,” she said. Davenport was presented the Harvard Book Award by Carolivia Herron. The award, created in 1910, is generally given to the top-performing students in the nation and it was decided that the state diploma program would be added to the list.

She said she will continue her education through online courses to become a writer. Her classmate, Melvin Larker, also has a compelling story. Larker is visually-impaired and had to endure physical and bureaucratic hurdles to get his state diploma. “Many of the places weren’t equipped to help me move forward with my education,” Larker told the AFRO. “I managed to do it with perseverance. This diploma will open doors for me.”