Lewiston Adult Education teacher Don Roux talks Tuesday with graduates Kayeye Banza, left, John Lubamba and Bernadette Anderson before the start of the Lewiston Adult Education graduation at Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Four times, Kelly Coffin tried to earn her high school diploma.

Every time, she set her education aside for one reason or another.

But the fifth try, Coffin swore it would be her last.

“I promised my children that I would go back to school and graduate, no matter what it took or how long it took me to get there,” she said during an emotional speech. “I wasn’t giving up this time.”

Thirty graduates were recognized Tuesday at Lewiston Adult Education’s commencement ceremony in the high school gym. Many earned a diploma by passing the High School Equivalency Test, while others received an adult education diploma through a new credit-based program.

Kelly Coffin was one of two student speakers at Lewiston’s adult education graduation on Tuesday. Coffin tried four times to earn her high school diploma and swore her fifth try would be her last. Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

As a teenager, Coffin moved to a group home in Lewiston. When the bullying at school became too much, she dropped out at 17.

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“What worked for me this time was the support I had behind me, pushing me to finish,” she said, thanking her supervisors, co-workers, family and teachers.

Many of the graduates have similar stories.

For years, Rosie Hodgkins questioned whether she would ever earn her diploma. She struggled to make connections with others during high school, became addicted to various substances and dropped out.

But nearly 15 years later, with the support of her children and family, she finally graduated high school. Becoming a mother gave her the motivation to improve, she said. This July will mark seven years that she has been in recovery.

“While I wish the road didn’t have as many bumps along the way, I’m happy to be here,” she said.

Brothers Isaiah Johnson, left, and Aaron Johnson get ready Tuesday for the start of Lewiston Adult Education graduation at Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

For other graduates Tuesday, it was their second time earning a high school diploma.

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Kayeye Banza and John Lubamba both graduated from high school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Banza holds a college degree in electrical engineering.

But in order to attend Central Maine Community College in Auburn, they needed a high school diploma from the United States.

While waiting nine months for his work permit, Lumbamba said he spent his time studying in adult education classes.

Banza said even his parents have returned to school.

“Who am I to sit down at the age of 30 and not go to school?” Banza asked.

Keynote speaker Bruce King said when he looked around the room, he saw countless stories of perseverance over adversity, stories which mirrored his own.

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In his early 20s, mental illness morphed into drug addictions. He left college and began dealing at 22, ultimately spending five years in prison for drug trafficking.

Graduate Bernadette Anderson reads the event program Tuesday before the Lewiston Adult Education graduation at Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“I remember staring at myself in my shatterproof mirror thinking that my setbacks would mean that I’d amount to little more than a single deadbeat working 9-to-5 minimum wage jobs or caught in the revolving door that is the American Prison system,” he said.

He finished his last semester at Ithaca College after leaving prison, 10 years older than most of his classmates. But even with a degree, he faced discrimination.

“One thing that I’d promised myself before leaving prison was that I would never hide my past,” King said. “I would be transparent and allow judgment come as it may. Maybe one day I would find success and maybe that could even serve to give hope to the next lost soul.”

Now, as the co-executive director of Maine Inside Out, King works with incarcerated and at-risk youth in Maine to encourage meaningful community dialogue on oppression and transformative justice through theater.

Kayla Ray talks with her fiancé, Ron Theriault, before the start of the Lewiston Adult Education graduation Tuesday at Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“As graduates in this room , you’re positioned to be yet more stories in the chorus of individual victories,” he said.

Coffin, a dietary aide at Clover Healthcare, plans to earn her certified nursing license. Hodgkins said she wants to become a substance abuse councilor to help others.

Banza and Lumbamba said they are considering degrees in cyber security.

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