Hunter Bickford of Winter Harbor receives his high school diploma from Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Adult Education Director Ander Thebaud at a graduation ceremony held June 9 at the gazebo in Sumner Memorial Park in Sullivan. PHOTOS COURTESY RSU 24 ADULT EDUCATION

Adult education opens doors, but graduates have to push

SULLIVAN — Taking the chance and investing in education is a decision that requires hard work and sacrifice, Gail Hackelberg told the graduates of the Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Adult Education workforce training program at an outdoor ceremony June 16.

But it’s a decision that is well worth it, Hackelberg, a mother of five, said, as she recounted her journey to becoming a registered nurse.

Hackelberg received her certification as a nurse’s aide from the adult ed program at RSU 24 in 2014. Now, she works as a registered nurse on the medical/surgical floor at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital. She is working on getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

But her success wasn’t without trials, she told the class of 21 students. 

“[Going to nursing school] impacted my marriage, my relationship with my children, and my friends, outside of the ones I made at nursing school, became nonexistent,” Hackelberg shared. “My house was disorderly, I missed out on part of my children’s childhood. I was gone. They went to activities, and I studied. They ate meals together and when I got home, mine was in the toaster oven. It was sacrifice.”

“Was it worth it?” Hackelberg asked. “Yes.”

“You learn a lot about yourself when you work hard for something,” she said. “My marriage is stronger. My children are even more precious to me if that is possible … I learned what I was truly capable of if I worked hard.”

Hackelberg concluded her speech by recognizing the nontraditional path many students have walked to obtain their education.

“As an adult learner, education took on a different meaning, it held a different value,” she said. “You can take this first step and go with it, wherever it leads you.”

Hackelberg’s message to students to continue their education at any age is a sentiment close to the hearts of RSU 24 staff, said Adult Education Director Ander Thebaud.

“[Hackelberg] really did such a great job of talking about the doors that open and how exciting that be, especially when you aren’t expecting it,” Thebaud said. “As a staff, it’s so fun for us to celebrate students completing programs and watching them move forward.” 

Workforce training can encompass many fields, but “for us this year, it was all medical certificates,” Thebaud explained. Students earned certifications as medical administrative assistants, residential medication aides, nurse’s aides and medical assistants.

Courses were held face to face and online, Thebaud explained, due to the pandemic. Last-minute changes were inevitable, and she said staff and students were ready to adapt.

“Both teachers and students were incredible about being able to shift on a dime.”

In other celebratory events, on June 9, students who obtained their high school diploma or completed the HiSET, the high school equivalency test, were recognized in individual ceremonies held at the gazebo at Sumner Memorial Park in Sullivan.

It is the second year in a row, due to the pandemic, that the ceremonies were held individually.

“It’s a really nice time to individually recognize people’s strengths and the growth they had,” Thebaud said.

She said the personalized ceremonies are also a way for family and friends to get a more in-depth glimpse at their graduate’s school life, and the hard work that was done between childrearing, cooking dinner and going to work — all while a pandemic raged on. 

Four graduates received their high school diploma and four completed the HiSET, each getting the chance to wear a cap and gown and march to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Additionally, eight students between the high school completion group and the workforce training group were inducted into the National Adult Education Honors Society.

The national achievement “is about commitment to their program, character [and] being supportive of their peers,” Thebaud said. 

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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