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Rebecca Holm said she felt really excited to earn her HiSET certificate, equivalent to a high school diploma, and to have the chance to celebrate the accomplishment Wednesday with her family.

“I’m happy for myself,” said Holm, a 16-year-old who left Belgrade High in her sophomore year.

To avoid spreading the coronavirus, the Bozeman School District’s Adult Learning Center held individual ceremonies instead of a large group ceremony this year. Spread through the afternoon, seven of this year’s HiSET students marked their achievement with a mini-graduation on the Willson School lawn.

Now, having earned her certificate, Holm said she’s hoping to study more, start online college classes next year, perhaps through Montana State University-Billings, and become perhaps a math teacher or a neonatal intensive care nurse.

The HiSET program, formerly known as GED, has made a difference in her life.

“It’s showing I didn’t give up in life,” Holm said. “I tried to do something to succeed.”

In all, 18 students passed their HiSET tests before the virus forced closing the testing center, said Shae Thompson, Adult Learning Center coordinator and one of two teachers, along with Joanna Stratman.

The annual event gives students the chance to wear a cap and gown, get a 2020 tassel, have their photo taken and honor their accomplishment.

“It’s definitely important,” Thompson said. “It’s giving people the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and improve their career opportunities.”

Some students go the HiSET route because they have been home schooled and would like to finish with a diploma, she said. Some dropped out of high school and are looking for an alternate path. Quite a few want to start college early. And some are older, in the 20s, 30s or 40s, left school early to work and raise a family, and now they want to go back and finish their diploma.

It’s a milestone and a stepping stone, Thompson said.

Stratman prepared a speech for the students, saying while the ceremony looks a little different this year, “it does not diminish your hard work and perseverance in completing your high school equivalency certification.”

“You are here today because you persisted, and we are so proud of all that you have accomplished.”

In a normal year, Thompson said she would have asked Holm to be one of this year’s graduation speakers.

“Math is kind of her strength,” Thompson said. “Often that’s the scariest subject for students.”

Holm said she left high school because she wasn’t getting good grades and was skipping class a lot. “I decided to leave and find something I actually enjoyed.”

A family friend mentioned the Adult Learning Center, located upstairs in Willson School, and she thought she’d give it a try.

“I like how it’s set up — you learn at your own pace,” Holm said. And doing math with Thompson was actually fun. “We both love math.”

Asked her advice to others in similar situations, Holm said, “Don’t give up on life, and don’t give up on your education. It’s important. Find something you enjoy doing and do it.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.