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Northeast graduates second batch of adult ed students

Bob Carpenter, Community Contributor • Jun 17, 2019 at 7:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — “I'm so proud of myself.”

More than 30 graduates of all ages received a standing ovation from a packed house as they received their High School Equivalency diplomas from the Northeast State Adult Education Program on Thursday in Johnson City, following a recent ceremony in Kingsport. That made the Johnson city event the second adult ed ceremony in the Tri-Cities this spring.

"Every one of these students has a story, and every story is different, but they all have a story that led them here tonight, and we are oh so thankful that they're here," said Debbie Fillers, Adult Education Program director.


Graduates Michelle Whitaker and Gary Barnett briefly shared their stories with the crowd, emphasizing gratefulness for a second chance.

Whitaker, 39, said she battled drug addiction and troubles with the law for many years that cost her her home, children and self-esteem. She credited her faith in God and her teacher, Karla Prudhomme, for giving her the inspiration and confidence to turn her life around and complete the program.

"I made the decision to surround myself with people that really loved me and wanted to see me do better," Whitaker said. "I'm graduating today; I finally did it and I'm so proud of myself."

Barnett said he quit school in 1989 and ended up a year later in prison, where he spent almost 18 years. He credited First Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice for giving him a second chance. Rice sent Barnett to one of the state's Day Reporting Centers that helps individuals re-enter society as accountable citizens who can hold a job and establish a responsible lifestyle.

"Never in a million years would I have thought I'd be standing on this stage," said Barnett, who now works as a construction superintendent. "I want to thank the (Day Reporting Center) facilitators for pushing me and giving me the inspiration to do what I've done. I thank everybody that's helped me and pushed me toward the right path."


Ian White, assistant commissioner of the state's Division of Adult Education, and Sam Rowell, Northeast State vice president for Economic and Workforce Development, were featured speakers. The event was held at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City.

White encouraged graduates to build on their success by becoming lifelong learners and continuing to pursue other educational and career opportunities.

"I challenge you to take this one achievement and change your future and in doing so change your families, your friends and your communities," White said.

Rowell praised the students for their grit and determination and echoed White by encouraging the graduates to capitalize on the moment.

"You may have entered the race a little late at the start, but you now have momentum. Don't stop. With the courage you've shown to get to this point, you'll catch up, and you can move to the front," Rowell said.


Fillers also recognized the program's top three students: Michael Elliott Thomure, Heidi Stewart and Morgan Keller. Thomure posted a perfect score on three of his exams.

"My confidence is tripled," Thomure said. "This night is inspirational for me. I'll probably be the first in my family to go to college and that's heartwarming."

Listed graduates were Latosha Ashby, Gary Barnett, Harley Barr, Shane Bouton, Matthew Collins, Chaz Condra, Jordan Conklin, Courtney Crawford, Christen Devoti, Misty Devoti, Faith Doss, Nita Hale, David Howell, Mackenzie Hughes, Mariah Huss, Jay Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Morgan Kellar, Calvin Lester, Sarah Marshall, Cassie McGinnis, Madison McKenna, Todd Mooney, Taryn Oster, Todd Rabren, Skiyung Rendon, Isiah Ross, Jacqueline Seagle, Brittany Shifflett, August Smith, Jordan Spears, Zoe Stanley, Heidi Stewart, Daniella Stuckenbruck, Michael Elliott Thomure, Michelle Whitaker, Christopher Wilson and Chassidy Wright.


In 2016, Northeast State was named as one of eight service providers by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development to coordinate adult education programs in each of the state’s 95 counties. Northeast State’s adult education team serves the state’s District 1 region including Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.

The adult education team helps adults to complete a high school education, transition to postsecondary education and training, and obtain employment. The Northeast State adult education program recorded a total of 219 graduates since July 1, 2018.

For more information about adult education or how to pursue a degree, call (844) 637-5697 or email [email protected]