No holding back CCAC grad now
Cynthia Edmond greets well-wishers with a firm handshake and a 1,000-watt smile.
It's been a long, uphill walk for the Penn Hills woman. But Edmond could almost see the top of the hill as she modeled her cap and gown, preparing for commencement on Thursday at the Community College of Allegheny County, where she was to pick up two associate degrees — one in business management and one in general studies.
Like most community colleges, CCAC — where the average student is 28 — had many adults among the 503 graduates. Few knew the route Edmond, 54, navigated to get to the stage.
Slow to learn and plagued by seizures as a child, Edmond said she was placed in special ed classes in Pittsburgh's public schools in the 1960s and remained there until graduation in 1979.
“When I was younger, people said I'd never amount to anything or be anything,” Edmond said.
Katy Neas, senior vice president for government relations for Easter Seals, said such stories were common in the 1960s and '70s before the law required that disabled children be given access to a free and appropriate public education.
“We often talk of kids with disabilities that were educated in the boiler room. Often, kids with disabilities were all lumped together, and it was assumed that they couldn't learn,” Neas said.
A 2000 report by the National Council on Disability estimated 3.5 million children with varying levels of disability were shunted into separate classrooms prior to the adoption of the federal Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
“There was little accommodation to allow them to succeed at that time. You look back and say ‘why didn't we know better?' But we didn't have the evidence-based education we have now,” said Bill East, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.
Although some felt she couldn't learn, Edmond said her late mother, Joan Marie Burchette, worked relentlessly to ensure her eldest daughter learned to read.
“She fought for me,” Edmond said.
Edmond, who never married, graduated from Peabody High School, then found work as a nursing assistant. She said she loved helping people, but health problems and recurring bouts of depression sidelined her from the workforce in 2003.
Six years later, confident she still had something to give, Edmond enrolled in the community college.
Placement tests determined her reading and spelling skills were up to par, but her math was at sixth-grade level and her writing skills were poor.
“I took three developmental courses for my first semester, and from then on, I worked hard to graduate. I took algebra four times to pass. They usually only let you take it three times, but I was determined to pass it, so I went to the dean's office. I wanted an opportunity to pass it, and I did — with a C,” she said, adding that her algebra professor, Raymond Weaver, made all the difference.
Edmond said he was among many professors and tutors who helped her.
As she progressed, her grades improved. She made the dean's list twice, was the recipient of the school's NAACP scholarship in 2012 and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa and Psi Beta honor societies.
“Help is there, if you ask for it,” she said. “I prayed, and God sent me people who helped me.”
Pamela Nichols, director of job placement and career services at CCAC's Boyce campus said Edmond was among the most reliable student volunteers she has ever known.
“I've seen her walking from the bus stop, bundled up, in the worst, bitter-cold weather, determined to get here and get to class. I'm so proud of her,” Nichols said.
Edmond said she's grateful she got through school, even if it took her four years. She is working part-time as a checkout clerk in a Penn Hills grocery store, sending out resumes for office work and is determined to learn to drive.
“She will keep at it, and she will do it,” Nichols said.
Asked what she has learned along the way, Edmond paused for a moment.
“Never give up. Just never give up,” she said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Arizona Uzi shooting that accidentally killed instructor ‘just stupid’
- Monroeville firefighters hope hot photo calendar will help raise money
- Parking, traffic crunch expected on busy North Shore this weekend
- Italian Village Pizza owners plead guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy
- Newsmaker: George J. Zimmerman
- Public Utility Commission hearing arguments against Lyft
- Biden in Pittsburgh Thursday for fundraiser
- Court overturns convictions in Amish hair attacks
- Pitt, CMU researchers shed light on how learning works
- Penn Hills schools’ transit director resigns
- Attorney General drops charges against ‘upper-level’ heroin dealers, records show