By all accounts, Kiara White was quiet and withdrawn when she enrolled in GED preparation classes at the Adult Learning Center (ALC) more than a year ago.
“I thought maybe she was shy,” recalled ALC instructor Sandra Turner. “She didn’t want to collaborate or partner with anyone. She just wanted to sit off by herself.”
It was not long before Turner understood that White’s quiet nature was based on her experiences at a high school in another city.
“After talking with her and getting to know her, she did reveal to me that she was bullied. She made the choice to just stop going to school. Then she came here, and she thought the same thing would happen here.”
According to White, she found the exact opposite.
“I just love this school, this environment,” White said beaming with a broad smile. “It’s just so awesome because they don’t judge you. They don’t judge you. They give you advice.”
“I just feel like I’m taking 20 steps forward and none back because I just keep thinking positive, positive, positive,” continued White. “I have gained a lot of confidence and I want more.”
She credits her ALC teachers and staff for that confidence and identified them by name.
“I had Mrs. Applebee, then I had Ms. Turner, then I had Ms. McLeod. Ms. Crystal at the front, she’s always been there for me, and Mrs. Little has always been there for me. My classmates have been there for me. It’s just a positive environment.”
White acknowledged she wasn’t open to their support at first.
“I have a learning disability. I didn’t let people know when I came here because that’s part of the reason I was bullied,” White shared. “I felt bad for myself. That’s kind of my fault because I knew I was coming into a new environment and I didn’t give them a chance to know me for me and my struggles. I just held it in. I didn’t let them in.”
The same people she didn’t let in now describe her as “bubbly.”
“She was totally the opposite of what you see today,” recalled ALC GED Coordinator Heather Lamb of meeting White and her mother the day White enrolled.
“She’s been pushing and pushing and pushing and really doing the things she needed to do…always here and always encouraging other people. She’s just a great young person and has been an awesome student. I’m excited for her.”
Even more excited for White is her family, which she also credited for her success.
“My mom, my mom is the best mom ever because she is just so positive every day,” gushed White. “My sister Kianna is the same way. She’s so supportive, too. My aunts, my uncles, my whole family is very supportive. I felt like I let them down because I took so long, but I didn’t. My family was so happy when I passed – ALL my family, and I have a big family.
Similar to talking about her teachers, White identified family members by name when describing her journey to earn her GED.
Uncle Derek. Godmother Jenny. Uncle James. Aunt Serena. Uncle Charlie. Aunt Pam. Granddaddy. Four brothers. Four sisters. More uncles. More aunts. Too many cousins to count. Even a guinea pig named Oreo.
White, who never stops smiling, continued to explain.
“My uncle Derek is like a father figure to me. All my uncles love me but he’s the one who really knows all my dreams because I see him the most,” White said.
“My granddaddy, he’s my best friend because he shows me how strong he is. He’s paralyzed and he doesn’t let that get him down,” White shared. “He likes to be independent, on his own, and that’s how I want to be.”
Her mom studied with her. Her sister Kianna studied with her. Her cousins studied with her. One cousin brought her a Care Bear, White’s favorite.
“My family told me: ‘You can do this! You can do this!’ My cousins said: ‘You gotta study! You gotta study!’”
“My brothers and sister really kept me going. I didn’t want to disappoint them. I wanted them to know, I can do it. I’m not going to give up. I didn’t want my nieces and nephews looking at me and saying, ‘Well, you’re the only one who didn’t graduate.’ I just wanted to show them that I could do it!”
And she did.
On April 18, the young woman who enthusiastically describes her personal role models became a role model herself.
“When I passed, my mom started crying. I started crying. My family was so happy. I felt like I let them down because I took so long, but I didn’t. My aunt said, ‘I’m so proud of you! I’m so proud of you!’ My brother said, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’ All my cousins, my brothers and sisters, they’re so proud of me.”
Most importantly, “I’m just so proud of myself,” added White.
She will be among those to walk across the stage in a graduation gown at the ALC’s GED Recognition Ceremony May 24. Her proud family members will be there as well.
“How many tickets can I have?” Lamb said White asked after sharing the good news of her GED exam results.
The ALC ceremony won’t be the final stop on White’s educational journey. She talks about enrolling in Tidewater Community College and becoming a veterinarian. She has spent time volunteering at a local SPCA shelter.
“I didn’t want to give up and just be a dropout. You have to do something in life and I have so many dreams,” she said.
White also has advice for others who may find themselves feeling like she did before she came to the ALC.
“Don’t be scared. Take your chances. Not every place is negative and sometimes you just have to take that jump to understand: ‘Oh wow, the world is not all negative. There is positivity in the world.’ So I would tell you: don’t be scared; take the jump and think positive!”