2022 Adult Education Graduation

On Wednesday, May 25 Sauk Rapids-Rice hosted the Central Minnesota Adult Education Graduation Ceremony. 

Congratulations to the 2022 Adult Education Graduates! We are so proud of your accomplishments and wish you continued future success!

AE graduating class 2022 group picture.
Adult Education Graduates Waiting in the hallway before walk up
Graduate walking across stage and shaking superintendent hand
Male graduate in hat and gown

There were some amazing speakers willing to share their journey with the audience. Here is just one of them:


Elliot’s Graduation Speech      

Good evening everyone, my name is Elliot Hernandez, formerly known as Joel Salinas.

Honestly? I never thought I would be up here giving a graduation speech. Not because I ever doubted myself but because I almost accepted being a stereotype. Ironically I almost let myself be defined by what I didn’t wanna be defined by, I almost let myself get away with thinking I would never get this opportunity. I almost let myself make an excuse not to have this opportunity. Two years ago I had no goals, no dreams, and no motivation. I was just simply existing and I finally found that just being was not enough. The unsureness of what every day was to bring, filled me with dread. Whatever happened in my life was entirely up to fate, or so that's what I told myself. I was quite surprised with how I took control of my own life this past year and let me tell you I have never felt more powerful and confident. All it took was a healthier mindset, granted that took a while to change but now here I am.

Perspective is everything so just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. For a long time, I felt like no matter how hard I tried to love someone I was incapable of receiving it back. I recently learned people are going to treat you how you let them, how you react shows your character, and distancing yourself does not mean you hate them but that you respect yourself more. I know my worth and you should know yours. Look where we are, we all have a story, we all have a reason to be and the reason we are here now is that we are triumphant. 

Growing up I didn't care for school much, at least the education part. I enjoyed being at school because that's where my friends were and that's where I got to be unapologetically me. When I was younger it was never hard for me to make friends with students my age, the older kids at school… or with the teachers. My greatest trait is being as personable as I am. I was a social chameleon. Name a group that wasn't a bunch of jocks and I was probably sitting there once a week. School is where I was funny, energetic, and happy. School was my safe space. 

When I was 17 my life changed. I dropped out of high school… I also had just been kicked out of my home… and was couch hopping. I lived here and I lived there with friends and their families who were so kind and generous to have a bed for me, a plate at the table, and a spot in their hearts. People who have made such a positive impact on my life. I tried getting my GED that summer and had just signed up for classes that week. I woke up at 4:30 am to walk the three hours it takes to get from Saint Joseph to Sauk Rapids, do my class, and walk right back and work the afternoon shift at my job. After about three or four times of walking this distance, I just stopped showing up. Time passes and I moved a couple more times, had a job here and there, and sometimes not at all.  

During that time I had lost my mother Venessa Salinas who also graduated from this program. She went on to go to Rasmussen College and earned her diploma as a Medical Assistant. Even throughout her battle with cancer she still worried about her school work and persevered. She was a great role model to look after when it came to her dedication to education.

I moved back home with my dad and four younger siblings, I started doing the jobs my mom did and tried getting back to school again. I did online school for two months. I learned that with my credits missing in school, it was going to take me another year and a half. I've never given up something so fast, but that time frame wasn't gonna work. So I again dropped out. At this point I'm over the idea of school, I wasn't getting the support I needed from home and had no motivation to do so. 

I now again live with my friend's family and decided that because the school was so close, I should give it one more shot. I did, and they welcomed me with open arms. I was the guinea pig for the hybrid diploma program and let me tell you, I put in everything I had. I was so scared I wasn't gonna succeed but not only did I have great teachers, those great teachers believed in me, and they made me believe in myself.

They supported me and stayed by my side and encouraged me to keep doing better. They made me so confident in myself and were so genuine in wanting to help me succeed. I am forever grateful to now have the opportunity to have worked with the teachers and mentors here and to have completed the program at the Sauk Rapids Adult Education Center. (Thank you to Vanessa Vanlaanen, Josh Hoffman, the Harner family, the Held family, the Finn family, the McNulty family, and the Walkers. Thank you to the friends and family who were there for me and supported me and thank you to everyone here tonight. )

So, graduates of today, life is not easy. If you think it is, you are perpetually disappointing yourself. In life, you get what you put in. If you want love, give love. If you want friends, be one. If you want money, provide value. I encourage you to run harder than you did yesterday and fight harder than you ever have before. I promise it won't be easy but that's exactly life. Keep your head high and your goals higher. Congratulations Class of 2022. 


At Hillside Adult Education, we will help students age 17 and older reach their educational goals. Our schedules are flexible to fit the lives of busy adults. We offer in-person or online options to accommodate every situation. Our classes can help you earn your high school diploma, prepare for the GED exam, and improve reading, math and writing skills. We are the only Adult Education site in Central Minnesota where adults can finish earning their high school credits. We also offer citizenship preparation, English as a Second Language (ESL), college prep, Health Care Core college prerequisites, OSHA 30 and blueprint reading, and Food Manager training.