David Hebert is a prime example of someone who refused to be denied an education and a better way of life.

After four attempts, the 20-year-old from Louisville received passing scores on all parts of the GED exam and was among the approximately 55 students to receive high school equivalency diplomas from East Central Community College President Dr. Billy Stewart at the semi-annual GED graduation held July 18 on the Decatur campus.

Hebert, one of three graduates to provide testimonials during the special program held in a packed Huff Auditorium, said finally earning his GED diploma has provided a positive direction in his life.

"Now that I have my GED, you may ask, 'Where will you go now?'"

A few years ago, Hebert said his response would have been, "I don't know."

But with the GED diploma, Herbert plans to pursue his "dream" careers in the food and video games industries by enrolling in Culinary Arts, Computer Programing and Drafting and Design technology classes at ECCC.

"I've always loved to cook...and want a second career designing video games," he said proudly. "Why two careers?" he asked. "I have one answer, I dream big...and I am willing to work for my dreams, and so should you," he challenged fellow graduates. "You earned it (GED diploma); now take it and live it before it is too late. Life is too short to waste it. Don't waste your dreams - live them!"

Hebert expressed appreciation to instructors Daphne Donald and Kay Ward "for their encouragement and support in helping me obtain my GED Diploma."

Brittany Perkins of Carthage, who also provided a testimonial, said having earned her GED Diploma means she can pursue a career in the medical field.

"I want to go to college and become a registered nurse." said the wife and mother of a young daughter. "I enjoy caring for and helping others."

Perkins, 22, is a Port Gibson native who at age 14 was placed with the Department of Human Services. She moved from one foster home to another.

She said during her remarks that she dropped out of school in the tenth grade, got married and had a baby. She admitted returning to the classroom was a tremendous challenge....but she found success thanks to family members and her instructors.

"It was difficult to get back into school being a full-time wife and mother," she stated. "My husband (Larry Perkins) persuaded me to get my GED diploma and was my biggest supporter. He helped me complete my homework and took care of our daughter (Abbygail Perkins) while I was in class."

Perkins said her mother-in-law, Marsha Perkins, also encouraged her to pursue a GED diploma and took her to the Leake County Career-Technical Center to register for classes. She attended classes and did well in all areas except one.

"I passed all subjects except math.....and continuously failed the subject time after time," she said. "I was at the point of giving up."

But Perkins did not give up, and continued taking GED classes at the Carthage Career Advancement Center.

"My instructor (Carolyn Harris) worked with me and was very patient," said Perkins. "After I took several practice tests and maintained a score of 450 or better, she assured me that I was ready to take the official GED Test at East Central Community College."

Perkins took the test at EC and said she "felt confident and knew in her heart" that she would pass the exam. Her feelings were accurate, as she explained.

"That was a joyous moment for me," she said of the passing grade, "knowing that someone believed in me. I was so determined to prove others wrong who did not believe I could do it."

Perkins said she is ready to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

Stephen Hampton, 52, is a Sturgis native now residing in Louisville.

He excelled in football at Sturgis High School but dropped out of school his senior year.

He and his wife Clara married while in high school and he was called into the ministry a short time later.

Prior to earning his GED Diploma, Hampton said he was ashamed to tell people that he had dropped out of school.

His feelings changed when he watched comedian Bill Cosby admit during an interview on television that he was a high school dropout but later returned to the classroom to earn his GED Diploma.

"This made me realize that many people, regardless of who they are, have made some wrong choices in their lives," said Hampton. "But that does not matter as long as you try to better yourself. I realized that if Bill Cosby could do it, I could, too....and then he quoted scripture: 'I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.'"

Hampton, who attended GED classes at the ECCC Career Advancement Center in Louisville, said his return to the classroom was not an easy experience.

"When I first started trying to get my GED Diploma, I would go to class and stay a few minutes," he said. "I wasn't taking it seriously enough. Then I realized, after some time, that if I wanted this I was going to have to buckle down and get it. But I thank God for giving me the desire to stick with it because quitters never win and winners never quit."

He encouraged others to "don't give up" no matter the obstacles to overcome.

"Whatever your goal is in life, keep the faith, be persistent and believe that you can make it," Hampton said. "The best advice I can give when you feel like giving up is to pray. God answers prayers. I know this for myself because he did it for me. He may not come when we want Him to, but I know He's on time."

Hampton, a father of five, said he realizes how important it is to have an education.

"Years ago, when jobs were plentiful, I could quit a job or get laid off and find another other job," he said. "Now, it does not matter how much experience you have, you are required to have a high school diploma or GED Diploma."

Hampton is employed at Brasfield and Gorrie Construction. He also enjoys preaching and singing, and recently released his first Gospel CD, "The Last Days."

He expressed appreciation to instructors Mrs. Shelby Varner, Mrs. Shannon Smith, Mrs. Janice Greene and the late Mrs. Jean Sanders for "working with me and believing in me."

Also receiving GED Diplomas were Jackie Ables, Andrea Alford, David Atkison, Claude Epting, Jr., Celia Hawthorne, Brittany Jones and Justin Stuart, all of Morton; Barbara Ables, Crystal Springs; Devangelos Anderson, Jamison Davis and Tiffany Hayes, all of Lake; Cindy Bozeman and Ellen Reilly, both of Union; Lanisha Bridges, Rosemary Lum, Sidbreanna Nichols, Franchesca Rankin, Noel Waggoner and Brandon Weaver, all of Forest; Reginal Brown, Noxapater; Cristie Carter, Samuel Hill, Ocean Roberson, Antionette Webster and Kristen Yarbrough, all of Louisville; Cornelius Dan, Michelle Dan and Mikkolette Dan, all of Choctaw; Bryan Drury, Alana Goodin, Alisha McClelland, Kimberly Nowell, Cappi Reese, Desmond Rush and Leslie Tubby, all of Philadelphia; Tina Emmons and Freddie Johnson, both of Pelahatchie; Jeyde Fitzgerald, Brandon; Olen Graham, Decatur; Casey Harrell, Samantha Jolly and Meghan Wheeler, all of Lena; Dusty Harris, Tyler Ricks, Latica Riley and Casey Sammons, all of Carthage; Rachel McCord, Lawrence; Stephen McCullough, Macon; Ashley Morrow, Newton; Roshonda Needom, Walnut Grove; Tania Rhodes, Conehatta; and Mitchell Spangler, Little Rock.

East Central Community College offers free ABE/GED/ESL classes throughout the College's support district, which includes Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Scott and Winston counties.

For more information, contact Ryan Clarke, Director of Adult Basic Education and GED Testing, 601-635-6387 or call toll free, 877-462-3222, ext. 387. His email address is rclarke@eccc.edu.