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Students worked toward 'life goals'

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 1:26 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Mon Valley Bridge program manager Kathleen McQuillan presents a certificate to Shane Morris of Clairton on Friday at Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Jordan Wood of North Versailles Township and Courtney Young of Wilkinsburg await certificates during the Mon Valley Bridge graduation ceremony on Friday at Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport.

Earning their high school equivalency through Mon Valley Bridge, area students are linking their efforts to their goals, through education.

The McKeesport facility hosted its annual graduation ceremony on Friday at Bethlehem Baptist Church, with eight of the program's 15 graduates present to accept their GED and Mon Valley Bridge certificates.

“It's more than just a piece of paper. It's an accomplishment,” Mary Swink of McKeesport said. “I can work toward my goals now. I want to go to college and be a nurse.”

Swink, a mother of three, said Mon Valley Bridge taught her that people control their futures, and life is whatever people make of it.

“It opened my eyes,” she said. “It guided me to places I want to go.”

Jamaal Craig, the ceremony's keynote speaker who visits Mon Valley Bridge classrooms regularly, said he wants students to know that education will open doors that can't be closed.

Craig spoke about his career in the police force before pursuing further education. When he returned to college, he was surprised to be on academic probation because his grades weren't up to par.

“My story isn't much different from theirs,” he said. “While I have college degrees now, I didn't always have them. It took hard work, dedication and goals. Had I not had that in me, I wouldn't be where I am.”

Youth coach Chris Preston said keeping focused on the future has been a struggle for Mon Valley Bridge students.

“They are back with the courage to start their journey again,” she said. “This is just the beginning of making a life for yourself.”

Program manager Kathleen McQuillan said every student has an awesome, unique story.

“These kids keep trying, and they keep succeeding,” she said.

Courtney Young of Wilkinsburg said Mon Valley Bridge staff worked hard to make students value their education. She said students worked toward life goals rather than the certificate itself.

“It's not just a GED,” she said. “They build a friendship and bond to push you forward to achieve your goals.”

Mon Valley Bridge is located at 363 Shaw Ave., McKeesport. For more information, call 412-948-1800.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or