Classmates pay tribute to Na'eem Hunt
It was a bittersweet graduation ceremony by the Adult Education School (AES) to pay homage to a student who died before he found that that he passed his General Education Development diploma (GED).
School head Donna Daniels requested a moment of silence for Na'eem Hunt, a 35-year-old father of two who succumbed to a rare heart disorder the same week the results came in.
One chair among the graduates was left empty to acknowledge his achievement during the past year.
Said Ms Daniels: “This year has been bitter because of his passing. This is the sixth consecutive year that the AES has lost a member of it's learning community.
“We have lost young people to road fatalities, medical challenges and heinous crimes, all of it has impacted us in a very significant way.
“Na'eem Hunt was an inspiration to all of us. He was fully committed to achieving his GED despite being gravely ill with a rare heart condition. Na'eem would come to school with pain written all over his face but with a determination that he would get his GED.
“Sad to say Na'eem never found out that he had passed his exams. He was in a coma at Johns Hopkins Hospital when the school was trying to reach him to tell him the good news.
“If he were here this evening graduates he would sit proudly in that chair and he would encourage each and every one of you to continue to have a thirst for education and a better life.”
Mr Hunt's mother and two children were there to accept his diploma on his behalf.
Salutatorian Xine Peets, a former private school student spoke of how the school set her on the right track.
“Some may say that I gave up because I only had one more year to finish and graduate from private school but I needed change in my life,” said Ms Peets.
“I had this crazy idea of going to Louisiana to become a tattoo artist, I just wanted to do something different with my life.
“Thankfully my family was not having that, I gave up on that idea and did it their way which seemed to work out best.
“I decided to pursue a career in culinary arts. Becoming a pastry chef is my new dream and I'm determined to meet and achieve this goal with a lot of hard work.”
A nervous Gisele Burgess told the audience that she left high school 40 years ago without a school leaving certificate.
“In 1982 I began my career in housekeeping at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital before moving on to the medical records. Presently I am employed as a pharmacy technician at Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute.”
“Last year I decided to go back to personally challenge myself to secure the one thing that I had missed out on.
“I had to fit my studies into an already jam packed work schedule of a full-time job and a part-time job. But my most difficult obstacle to overcome was mathematics.
“With the assistance of instructor Ms Hayward I surprised myself by successfully passing my exams and I stand before you this evening with my fellow graduates.”
In another testimonial, Ryan Hunt said: “Some say that AES is the easy way out, some say it is a school for troubled individuals, I say it's for people who are seeking a second chance.
“It's for young Bermudians who want to pursue their ambitious. I learned that it's never too late to be someone and do something about it.
“I realised that you can do whatever if you are devoted and put your mind to it. And I really want to thank all my teachers because I know I was a pain in the neck.”
He also thanked his parents bringing this far and bringing him back up when he was on his way down.
Executive Director of the Centre Against Abuse Laurie Shiell gave the keynote address and recalled her AES graduation at a time when she had no ambition.
“Everyday of my life was spent waking up with nothing planned outside of having fun with my friends.
“The path I was on would have ensured that I was on the road to mediocrity and bumming a lift to get there.
“I was not interested in working and I knew the only other option that my mother would allow me to take was to go to college because doing nothing was not an option while I was living under her roof.
“College took me off the road to mediocrity and gave me purpose, I began to live with intention. This graduation class has the same opportunity to be better than.
“It is a mindset, it is a decision to be better than you used to be.
“It is a shift in your thinking to be better than the father who wasn't there for you or to be better than the mother who didn't love you like you needed to be loved.
“Setbacks are temporary and they will not define you.
“Know that you are at a crucial road in your lives, you can choose the road to mediocrity or you can choose to live your lives intentionally, choose to be better than. I look forward to seeing you on that road.”