Melissa Gravelle dropped out of school in Grade 9, struggling, immature and discouraged.
“I was tested in elementary school at a basic level. They said it wouldn’t be possible for me to do general work,” she said.
Last week, the 34-year-old Sarnia woman not only earned a high school diploma from the Alternative and Continuing Education Centre, she was the graduating class’ Valedictorian.
“I’m the first person in my family to graduate,” she said.
“(You need to) believe in yourself, believe in your ability to succeed in life and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
Gravelle had tried to return to school in the past but found it too hard. She worked multiple jobs, regularly putting in 15-hour days.
She decided to try again about a year ago, and the inspiration this time came from her son.
Despite having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he stays positive through even his hardest days at school, she said.
“Every day he got up and it was a new day, and he looked at it in a new light. He was definitely my inspiration. Like every mother I wanted to provide a better life for my son.”
The Alternative and Continuing Education Centre on Oakdale Avenue offers programs to help a wide range of people complete their education, including the 11 students who graduated on June 13.
Gravelle said improving her math skills took a long time, especially while working up to seven days a week. She also raised her English skills to college level, learned how to write a formal essay, and kept her grades above 80.
Getting good marks was a motivator, she said. “I can do this. I am doing this.”
She praised the centre’s teachers for pinpointing the places she was weakest and doing the little things to keep her encouraged and motivated.
She has now enrolled in a two-year social work program at Cambrian College, and plans to attend Laurentian University to earn a Bachelor degree.
Gravelle said finding a job in social work would allow her to give back to the community.
“And I’d be home on the weekend with my family, where I need to be.”