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‘Breaking the generational curse’: East Spencer resident earns GED

Fresh from an overnight, eight-hour shift, Lil’Blake Montgomery walks the halls of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and recalls her recent graduation experience with nothing but smiles and excited laughter.

Montgomery was one of 191 students to receive their high school equivalency or GED during the college’s 55th commencement ceremony this May. Those few moments lining up, preparing to walk across the stage and — later — walking to receive her diploma, remain fresh on her mind, she said.

“It was amazing, the feeling of being able to experience that,” she said. “Nobody can take that away from you. At that moment you just feel so accomplished, so proud.”

But, said 29-year-old Montgomery of the path towards reaching that stage: “It was definitely a journey for me.”

Montgomery left school during her ninth-grade year following turbulence in her family. Neither her mother nor father had completed their own high school journeys, and both were out of her life at the time.

With her extended family focused elsewhere, she said it was easy for her to fall through the cracks.

Necessity would lead Montgomery into the working world, but she said a desire to go back and finish her education never subsided.

“I felt so stuck in what I was doing and where I was at,” she said, “Right now I feel like I have ‘just a job.’ I’ve had that for almost 11 years and that’s a long time. I want to have a career. I don’t want to ‘have to go to work.’ I want to go do something that I love.”

Montgomery would explore Rowan-Cabarrus’ high school equivalency or adult basic education program three times before finally making the leap. The first time, she said, she was unsure of program requirements or her own capabilities. The second time, she completed three months of work before car trouble would force her away once more.

After months more of expressing her desire to family, friends and coworkers, she finally decided to take the leap once more.

“You really just have to jump out there and take the step. You can’t just sit around and talk about it all the time,” she said. “You’ve got to take the leap. You’ve got to take the step.”

Montgomery praised the Rowan-Cabarrus north campus staff for their assistance on her final leg of the journey. Staff members had helped her find a means of study that fit not only her schedule, but her learning style.

She would come to class in the morning following a night shifts in retail, engaging in the program through a mixture of textbooks and online, computer-based modules.

Three months later, she passed the final test and earned her credentials, getting the chance to participate in the May commencement ceremony.

And, she said, it’s only upward from here.

“All I kept thinking was, ‘I can’t wait to do this again in two years,'” said Montgomery, a nod to her plans to come back to Rowan-Cabarrus in the fall to study radiography.

“I feel like that’s just a start. The GED was just a kick. That was the push,” she said. “Now I’ve been pushed, I’ve started crawling. My associate degree will be the walk, and after, I’m going to be ready for the run.”

The run will be a continued trend of lifelong learning, an enthusiasm for which Montgomery said she hoped to pass along to her nieces, nephews, siblings and beyond.

“The longer you sit around thinking about something, the more likely that’s all it’s going to be is a thought,” she said. “I wanted more than that. I wanted to make my mom proud, to show family I could do this and to be a bigger role model to my nieces and nephews as they go through school.”

And them seeing her cross the stage had been step one in providing motivation, she said.

“It’s time to break the generational curses,” said Montgomery. “Lots of times, this starts off with parents or even grandparents never finishing school. When I have kids, they’re going to finish school.”

Rowan-Cabarrus adult basic education courses are offered free of charge Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. or from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or online. For more information and registration dates, call 704-216-7192 or 704-216-3507. For online classes, call 704-216-3785.

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