Gulfport Job Corps celebrates first graduation since Katrina

Dozens of students, many of them considered at-risk or low-income, received their diplomas Tuesday, but it was no ordinary graduation. The ceremony was a historic one for the Gulfport Job Corps.

The graduates beamed with pride as they posed for their class portrait. And they were all smiles as they lined-up, anxiously waiting for their big moment. They are the 2011 graduates of the Gulfport Job Corps Center. Some completed their courses last fall.

"I feel happy that I'm graduating from somewhere and making a career out of my life and going to school for LPN," said Tanequa Breland.

As the 65 graduates marched into the Lyman Community Center, they realized the significance of the ceremony. It was the first graduation for the Gulfport Job Corps since it re-opened after Katrina last year.

The graduates credit the center for helping them get their GEDs, a high school diploma, job skills, and a second chance.

"Some of us, we came here with attitudes. And to be honest, Job Corps really changed us, not just one person, but as a whole," said Terriyona McKee. "I'm working at the South Mississippi Regional Center. I love it there."

"School was not going the best for me, and I just wanted a second chance to do something with myself," said Jaiiah Smith. "I'm working for a Jackson Coca Cola as a merchandiser. I must say, it's a great job. It's everything that I wanted to do."

It was also a momentous day for the Job Corps program. For the first time, thousands of students from 124 Job Corps centers across the country held graduation celebrations on the same day.

"That's what Job Corps is all about. We bring them in, get them trained, social skills, academically and a vocational trade," said Center Director Alexander Alston. "We're happy. This is a good day for us."

"I used to get in trouble a lot, and I really slowed down," said Breland. "I'm so happy that I'm graduating with a diploma and a trade that I came for."

Most of the graduates have found jobs. Many are working in hospitals, nursing homes, and the construction industry. Others have joined the military or are enrolled in college.

The next graduation exercise is scheduled for January. The Gulfport Job Corps plans to hold two ceremonies a year.

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