The Omega School Inc. Summer 2013 GED/HSED Commencement Ceremony was held Thursday, June 20, in the auditorium of Madison Memorial High School.
Omega School is an alternative, adult basic education and diploma completion program that prepares students who missed out on a high school diploma a chance to earn their GED through its alternative, one-on-one approach to learning.
Yorel Lashley and Drum Power students opened the event with an exciting performance before Bill Thielmann, board president of Omega School, gave the welcoming remarks.
“We're here today to honor the achievements of those graduates who received their GED and HSED credentials,” said Thielmann. “These graduates have worked very hard to obtain their GED/HSED, but they didn't do it alone. I would like to thank the staff and volunteers at Omega School, too.”
Oscar Mireles, executive director/principal of Omega School who has been running the program for 19 years, told the crowd: “We're grateful in the Madison community to have other community leaders and other foundations who help out with what we do at Omega School. Steve Goldberg of the CUNA Mutual Group Foundation is one of those.”
Goldberg, executive director of CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, presented the CUNA Mutual Group’s Growing in the Right Direction Scholarships to Carmen Mercado and Tsering Wangyal. “Every year we award college scholarships to graduating seniors at Madison's high schools and from day one in this program we have included Omega School in that group,” Goldberg explained. “This year we are awarding two college scholarships of $500 each to graduates of the Omega School program to salute their courage, their persistence, and their energy in getting their GEDs.”
Walter Ragland, a former Omega School graduate, came up to speak to the graduates. Ragland, who was living a troubled life and was once even nicknamed 'Homicide,' completely turned his life around starting at Omega School.
“Napoleon Hill said, 'Desire is the starting point of all achievements, not a hope, not wishes, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything else,'” Ragland said. “Change and the desire for something is what this graduation class has. They have that desire.”
Ragland said that in 1999 he had that same desire — a desire to want something more than what he had.
“It was that desire to get my GED when I stopped going [to Omega] on a couple of occasions,” Ragland says. “It was people like Oscar [Mireles] who called me on many occasions and encouraged me to come and to not give up yet. 'You're more than just “Homicide,” he would tell me. Because of Oscar and others, I was able to go back and obtain my GED. But that wasn't the end of it. I moved further because of the hope he had in me. My desire to have more. I went forward. I moved to a city called Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and obtained my associates degree in counseling [at Moraine Park Technical College].”
After Ragland obtained his associates degree and took business classes, he became operations manager for Two Men and a Truck moving company. “But the desire was still there to have more,” Ragland remembers. “So, I registered to Upper Iowa University where I obtained my bachelor's [degree] in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. But the desire was still there; I still wanted more.”
Ragland is currently a drug and alcohol counselor at Attic Corrections and sits on the board of directors for the Charles Hamilton Houston Institution. He also works for Odom & Associates, a consulting firm and is a minister at Madison Pentecostal Assembly Church. “My desire is still there. I'm seeking to obtain my master's degree at Lakeland College,” Ragland says. “The desire is what we hold on to. People will tell you, 'Just get your GED.' But the GED is just your start of your desire to want something more and greater.”
Graduate Lee Townsel Sr. said that he started going to Omega School years ago but then suddenly stopped attending classes. “My mother passed away last year and that death had an impact on my family whereas my older son did not care about his grades,” he remembered. “I asked him why he didn't care, and he stated that I didn't care about school.... so why should he?”
Saddened about the impression he was making on his son, was reason enough for Townsel Sr. to get back to Omega School and to graduate. “I want to thank everybody at Omega School. Without my will and their persistence to help me, we would not be here,” he said. “I hope you all will keep encouraging and empowering our society, community, and families to keep education at the front of our to-do lists.”
Mireles presented MMSD Omega School Partnership Awards to Katy Sai of StoryBridge; Dean Robbins, editor of Isthmus; MMSD Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cheatham; and Omega School Board Member John Filsinger.
“I did visit Omega [School] when I was learning about the district in my first couple of months and I got a chance to look at all those pictures on the wall and all the beautiful faces of everybody who has graduated that you guys have there,” Cheatham said. “All of your faces will soon be on those walls, too. Congratulations, everyone!”
Omega School has been preparing students for the GED tests for more than four decades. The service is free to the students and the school is supported by city of Madison funds for the adult students, the Dane County Sheriff‘s Department for its work in the jail, and school district funds for students from their respective districts.
“Some of you may know that I have 11 brothers and sisters. What works with one brother, definitely won't work with another,” Mireles said. “You need to figure out a way to get along with 11 other people. To me, that's perfect training for Omega because everybody that comes is just a little bit different. Some need a little conversation, some need a little kick in the butt, some need a lot of encouragement. There's a lot of fear in Omega — I see it — but there's a lot of talent and a lot of potential and there's a lot of love.”
The event concluded with Mireles presenting the graduates with their GED/HSED (General Education Development/High School Equivalency Diploma) certificates. Mireles introduced each of the graduates in Omega School and praised each student’s good qualities, occasionally recalling a trial or difficulty a particular student had, and invited them on stage one by one to the handshakes and embraces of staff members standing behind him.
A reception followed in the Madison Memorial High School Cafeteria.
To learn more about Omega School, call the school at 256-4650 or visit www.omegaschool.org