By Mira Radovich, Senior Contributing Writer
Rio Salado College will hold its 2023 High School Equivalency (HSE) graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. The ceremony takes place at 7 p.m. at the North Phoenix Baptist Church, 5757 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix.
The three students chosen to serve as speakers at the ceremony are Cassandra and Gael Munoz and Tracy Merideth.
Cassandra Munoz and Gael Munoz
Brother and sister Gael and Cassandra Munoz started Rio Salado College’s High School Equivalency (HSE) program in August 2022.
The siblings, who enrolled at the college’s new partner location West-MEC SW in Buckeye, helped motivate each other through the program, and successfully passed their GED® exams after three months.
"I graduated high school in Mexico, but my transcripts weren’t accepted here so I had to start over to get my diploma,” Cassandra said. “I enrolled at Rio, started a new job, and moved into a new apartment. It was a lot of change in a short time, but it was all worth it.”
“When I learned of the challenges my sister had with her transcripts, I decided to join her in the Rio Salado program and get started on my future,” Gael said. “I am so much further ahead after just a few months at Rio than I would have been if I had stayed in Mexico."
Both students then completed a Retail Fundamentals certificate as part of an HSE cohort and enrolled in Rio Salado’s Business Entrepreneurship career training program in January.
"Business is something I am passionate about,” said Gael, who was inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society in March. “When Rio offered this, I was interested right away."
"I would like to finish my business entrepreneur certification and then finish the Adult ACE (Achieving a College Education) program at Rio,” Cassandra said.
Both plan on transferring to Arizona State University to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“I eventually want to own my own architectural firm, leading projects related to sustainability,” Cassandra said.
“I would like to establish my own business in the real estate or financial services field,” Gael said.
Cassandra added, "By going to college, we can demonstrate that we are capable, and that even though we have obstacles, we can work for our dreams and goals.”
Tracy Merideth’s path to earning her HSE diploma was filled with many obstacles. After dropping out of school in seventh grade, Merideth struggled with substance abuse for more than two decades.
Breaking the addiction cycle was the first challenge she met. The second was completing her HSE diploma through Rio Salado’s GED test prep program.
Merideth, who is now four years sober, enrolled in Rio’s HSE program during the pandemic, which provided its own challenges.
“Paying bills and maintaining day-to-day life with work and being a single mom was hard,” Merideth said. “I had to stay mentally focused on something I really wanted, living life on life's terms and still making it to class.”
It took two years to reach her goal through determination and sacrifice.
“I was able to succeed by staying sober and being persistent with my small goals,” Merideth said. “Taking small steps helped take me toward the big goal.”
Merideth plans to complete the Adult ACE program and is currently pursuing a behavioral health science certificate at Glendale Community College.
“I want to get personal trainer certification and, hopefully, in five years, open my own gym to work with people who struggle with addiction or mental health issues,” Merideth said.
She credits Rio Salado for helping to get her life back on track and even inspiring her children.
“As soon as I realized I had other opportunities than where I came from, my children now know they also have other opportunities,” said Merideth, whose daughter Kaylee is on the verge of completing her own high school diploma. “My community is also safer because I am sober and working on my education.”