Stefanny Ramirez, 20, took the stage at Frederick Community College on Monday night clad in a black robe and cap and wearing what looked like 5-inch nude-colored high heels. She was the student speaker for FCC’s adult education graduation ceremony. She smiled as she thanked the program and her teachers for not letting her give up on her dreams. She then had a special thank-you for a fellow graduate sitting just below her.
“Thank you, Dad, for those nights that you helped me understand mathematics better and you stayed up with me, even though you were tired from a long day at work,” Stefanny said. “I really appreciate the motivation you gave me and the momentum I needed.”
Stefanny’s father, Osmar Ramirez, 50, has spent the past two years studying right alongside his daughter. On Monday night, they both graduated from FCC’s Adult and Community Education Program with their GEDs.
Stefanny and her family left Venezuela in 2016 and immigrated to the United States. They left due to political and economic problems in the country.
Stefanny had graduated from high school in Venezuela, but the diploma did not transfer when she arrived in the U.S.
She wanted to continue her education to have more opportunities and decided to begin by taking English language classes through the adult education program at FCC. She then decided to pursue her GED, but midway she hit a snag. Stefanny started suffering from depression due to being away from family and friends and being in a new country where she didn’t know the language.
Stefanny lost her motivation, she said, and when her dad noticed he decided to help get her back on track.
Osmar enrolled in English classes himself and then began taking GED prep courses. He said it was important to him to make sure Stefanny stayed dedicated. As he watched Stefanny receive her diploma right behind him Monday night, he had an overwhelming sense of pride.
“I feel like I did a good job for my daughter,” Osmar said. “It’s like a dream.”
FCC’s adult education program is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and provides academic classes and other services to adults who do not have their high school diploma or who are looking to refresh their career skills or continue their education.
According to Kim Duncan, executive director of the program, many of the students are immigrants, and they come from a variety of backgrounds.
“We've had people come the second day they’ve been in the country, ranging in education levels from no formal education whatsoever ... to doctors, lawyers,” Duncan said. “It’s a wide, wide range of students that we serve in the program.”
The program serves about 1,800 students a year, and according to Duncan, the past year saw students from 75 countries who spoke 39 different languages.
Stefanny and Osmar are the only two students from Venezuela. In her speech, Stefanny said it's meaningful to have her father graduating with her since he began this journey to help her.
“The fact that my father made the decision to take the GED was a motivation for me. It was an indirect way to hold my hand and pull me out of that moment in my life where I felt hopeless,” Stefanny said at the ceremony.
Duncan said Stefanny and Osmar’s story illustrates the true purpose of the program.
“We’re often serving students who have the greatest barriers to achieving their goals,” Duncan said. “Stefanny and her dad absolutely exemplify the student success and what we would hope for every single one of our students.”
Having received their high school diplomas, both Stefanny and Osmar plan to continue their education.
Osmar plans to complete his auto mechanics certification and then enroll in a university and get a degree in computer studies. He used to work with computers in Venezuela and wants to continue in that field.
As for Stefanny, she will enroll as a full-time college student with FCC in the fall and taking audio production classes. She was also awarded the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship, which will help her in her continuing studies.
Stefanny hopes that going forward she can be an inspiration to others with dreams who may be struggling, just as her father was to her.
“Sometimes life surprises us and we need to find a motivation, and that's what my dad was always saying,” Stefanny said. “In this life, if we can be a motivation to other people, that’s the legacy that you can leave here in the world.”