Congratulations to the 2024 HSE Graduates!

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Thursday, June 27, 2024
HSE graduates look on during the opening ceremony
HSE graduate speakers Adriana Franco and Xander Westfall stand with President Kate Smith before the ceremony

HSE graduate speaker Adriana Franco, President Kate Smith and HSE graduate speaker Xander Westfall

HSE graduate speakers with President Kate Smith and MCCCD Governing Board Members behind stage before the ceremony

From left to right: Governing Board member Donna Davis, Associate Dean Kelly Stewart, President Kate Smith, Governing Board member Linda Thor, HSE graduate speaker Adriana Franco, Governing Board member Lynn Burnett, Governing Board member Marie Sullivan, Governing Board member Tom Nerini, HSE graduate speaker Xander Westfall

By Mira Radovich, Senior Contributing Writer

It was a night of happy tears and joyful cheers as Rio Salado College honored students who earned High School Equivalency (HSE) diplomas at the annual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the North Phoenix Baptist Church.

Watch a replay of the HSE graduation ceremony on our YouTube Channel.

In her graduation address, Rio Salado College President Kate Smith acknowledged the sacrifice and perseverance shown by the graduating Class of 2024.

“I want to say, on a personal note, that it is humbling to be here with you,” Smith said. “I am in awe of you and I admire every single one of you. Congratulations! You did it, and may you be inspired by that every single day for the rest of your lives.”

Smith also praised the efforts of the HSE graduates who completed additional programs and/or achieved honor society recognition.

“We celebrate the 104 HSE graduates who earned a college credential or certificate in addition to their HSE diplomas, and the 24 HSE graduates who were inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society,” Smith said. “Those graduates had to demonstrate exceptional commitment to their educational goals.”

The celebration was a milestone achievement for nearly 300 graduates. In the last year, Rio Salado co-enrolled more than 1,700 Adult Education students in career training pathways with 1,222 students (72%) earning a workforce credential.

Students earn their High School Equivalency diplomas from the State of Arizona after completing the required steps, including passing GED® exams. Rio Salado is the state’s largest provider of adult education, including GED® test preparation programs, offering students the opportunity to earn their HSE through GED® test or other pathways while training for in-demand careers. The Rio Salado Adult Education program also leads the state in ensuring students not only receive a diploma, but also gain valuable career skills.

Two HSE graduates, Adriana Franco and Xander Westfall, took to the stage to share their personal stories at the graduation ceremony.

Student Speaker Adriana Franco

Franco is a single mother who faced many obstacles when she began her HSE program at Rio’s Southern location.

“I had been trying to get (pass) my GED® tests since 2011,” Franco said. “I only needed to take the civics and math exams. After not stepping foot in a classroom for 16 years, I decided it was time to get help.”

Franco, who is originally from Guatemala, got the assistance she needed at Rio Salado.

“I remember walking into Rio Southern last October,” Franco said. “I was nervous but excited. Everyone made me feel very welcome, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”

Since attending Rio, Franco not only completed her HSE diploma, she also completed the Warehouse, Logistics and Inventory program, and is currently pursuing the Business Entrepreneurship program.

“It wasn’t easy because I worked full-time and had class right after for four days a week,” Franco said. “One day, it all became too much and I wanted to quit but my instructor Mila Hover wouldn’t let me. She encouraged me to continue my education.”

The assistance and support Franco received from Hover and College and Career Navigator Erin Manning had a monumental impact on her. She now aspires to pay it forward by becoming an adult education teacher at Rio Southern!

Read more about Adriana.

Student Speaker Xander Westfall

In July 2023, Westfall enrolled in GED® test preparation classes at Rio’s location in Surprise after dropping out of middle school nearly a decade ago.

“I am a transgender man and as an adult, I am very open about who I am,” Westfall said. “But when I was a kid, I was treated differently. Unfortunately, being in educational environments is often terrifying for people like me.”

Westfall was apprehensive upon first walking into Rio’s Surprise location.

“I was preparing for the impact of whatever social friction may arise from me existing as myself,” Westfall recalled. “To my shock, I was welcomed with open arms immediately, and treated with dignity and respect throughout my entire time at Rio.”

Westfall thrived in his new supportive academic environment.

“I went from being isolated, socially withdrawn and depressed to talking to everyone who would chat and cracking jokes in class,” Westfall said.

Within three months of enrolling at Rio, Westfall passed all of the GED® tests and earned his HSE diploma. In the spring, he was also inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society.

“I want to give a huge thank you to my instructor, Tina Brechbiel, who went above and beyond for me,” Westfall said. “I have never had such a caring, encouraging and patient teacher. I will always remember and admire her.”

Currently, Westfall is working at Rio’s Surprise location in a front desk support position, (his first ever job!) and is pursuing an associate degree in surgical technology at Estrella Mountain Community College.

Read more about Xander.

About the Rio Salado Adult Education Program

Rio Salado College is the largest provider of adult education in Arizona. Each year, our dedicated instructors, success coaches, tutors and staff help thousands of people:

  • Prepare to earn a high school equivalency diploma
  • Improve English language skills
  • Gain essential employability skills
  • Train for an exciting career
  • Transition to college

Learn more online or register today!