This spring, millions of students around the country proudly walked across stages in caps and gowns of every color to celebrate a milestone of achievement — high school graduation. Earning a diploma often means as much to the graduate as it does to their instructors, families and communities, and at Omega School in Madison, the class of 2016 saw all their hard work pay off on June 16.

About 75 attendees gathered at the Fountain of Life Church on Madison’s south side to celebrate 24 students who obtained their GED this year through the Omega School. Oscar Mireles, executive director and principal of Omega and Madison’s current poet laureate, was among those in attendance. For 22 years, Mireles has met every student to come through Omega’s doors, supporting their futures through helping them pass their GED exams.

“Graduates [of Omega] are working, going back to school, and are appreciative of opportunities Omega gave them at a time when they needed help,” Mireles said. “Maybe it’s guidance, or academic support, or a firm hand. Academically, they were smart enough to [earn their GED], but they needed support.”
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Since 1972, Omega School has provided individualized basic skills instruction in a supportive and informal atmosphere, and by working cooperatively with other agencies and institutions, has helped thousands of adults prepare for, and obtain, a GED/HSED credential.

At Omega, support comes in many forms thanks to flexible and individualized instruction. Additionally, Mireles noted how important it is for students to have practical support — a place to study, three meals and a present family — in order to have the energy to complete school. Growing up, many are privileged with having these things and may take them for granted. But particularly for first generation graduates, this support is invaluable.

“When you’re the first in your family to complete school, you might not get as much support,” Mireles said. “That’s what we’re doing, helping to build grit and resilience in our students. Earning their GED isn’t the end of the road for these students, they’re ready for the next step. You could see how proud the families were.”

Using their GED as a stepping stone, some will go on to finding work, furthering their education, being better parents or pulling themselves out of the criminal justice system. Mireles emphasized the effect earning a GED certificate can have on not just the individuals themselves, but their communities as well. He highlighted the savings by federal and local government when a citizens earns their GED certificate, compared to a net cost if one does not.
“There’s the collective impact [of graduates] taking care of their own business — it’s a blessing to them, but also a savings to the community,” Mireles said.

Mireles also had some advice to those hoping to earn their GED: take it one step at a time, and don’t make it harder than it is. Stay focused and stay on task, and keep the goal in sight.

“For first-generation students, the certificate has impact over generations,” he said. “[Your] children and grandchildren will have better lives because of it.”