Brentwood resident Vivian Colbert, 67, never attended her ceremony when she graduated from Upper Marlboro’s Frederick Douglass High School in 1964, she said, as she was pregnant at the time and decided not to go.
That is why she said it was so special for her and 25 other seniors, who — wearing white caps and gowns — received a graduation celebration for going back to school or doing positive work in the community. The event Saturday at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg was the fourth annual senior graduation ceremony presented by Seniors Against Stalking and Domestic Violence Support Group, an organization that provides support and guidance for people who have experienced abusive situations or know someone who has.
Those honored during the ceremony included seniors who are not involved in the organization but had successes to celebrate.
“I was so excited ... I cannot really tell you what I felt,” said Colbert, who was honored for her volunteer work as a court advocate and other volunteer work. “I was just happy that I had a chance ... to graduate. It was unbelievable.”
Barbara Givens, executive director of the organization, said she started the annual event because she realized many of the people who participated in her group fell victim to circumstances that prevented them from getting a high school diploma or advanced degree.
She said some of the seniors being honored were victims of stalking and domestic violence or knew someone who had been a victim, while others had no involvement in the group at all.
The seniors received certificates honoring them for their work or commitment to education.
“We discovered we had a lot in common,” Givens said, who was honored at the ceremony last year. “Many had not completed their high school diploma, or they wanted to get some vocational training.”
Givens cited family circumstances as a reason she did not pursue a college degree after graduating high school in 1959. She said she was also victimized by a stalker later in her life, which distracted her from pursuing higher education. She is currently seeking her master’s degree in nonprofit association management, she said.
Bladensburg resident Pearline Sweeney, 66, said she was being honored for volunteer work assisting homeless veterans and for helping with the organization’s food distribution, performed twice per month to help people struggling financially.
Sweeney said she never graduated from high school after becoming pregnant and was happy to finally have a celebration.
“It feels wonderful because I looked forward to graduating when I was young,” said Sweeney, who received her GED diploma in the late 1970s and said she plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, next year. “I wanted to graduate to make my mother proud. And now I can graduate and let my grandkids know that is never too late. ... I don’t care how old you are, you can keep moving forward.”