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93-year-old celebrates GED graduation in grand style

In the United States, high school graduation is considered to be a major accomplishment, so much so that many persons who do not graduate with their classes return to classes at a later date to earn a General Educational Development Diploma (GED). In many school divisions, those who earn GEDs are allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony at a designated high school within that division.

Marie Hill in her graduation regalia for her graduation service on June 19, 2014 at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, VA
Janice B. Holland
After 2 1/2 years of due diligence and testing, Marie Hill passed her last section of the GED test at age 92 and formally graduated at age 93.
Janice B. Holland

No matter the case, obtaining a high school diploma or GED is reason for celebration. For many, it will be considered one of the best (and biggest) days of their lives as becoming a high school graduate is very often considered a rite of passage. It is a time for congratulations and a time for reflection; a time of great joy and a time of sadness; a time of enormous pride and a time to fear failure – in essence, it is a time for emotions of every variety to envelop one’s soul.

A graduation party should be tailored to the graduate’s age, personality, goals, friends, likes and the wishes of the graduate. Some graduates don’t want to be singled out so they prefer having a joint celebration with some of their classmates. Doing that not only reduces the cost for each family, but it can also allow the families to add a few things they may not have been able to afford by themselves.

Keeping all that in mind, what kind of celebration does a daughter plan for her mother when she earns her GED when that mother not only has children, but also has grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren? How old is she? 93!

In December, 2013, at the tender age of 92, Marie Brinkley Hill, a native of Hobson, Virginia learned she had passed the last section of her GED test and had successfully earned her General Educational Development Diploma. Although this was the end of a formal journey Marie began in September 2010, it was the culmination of her lifelong dream to complete the education she had to leave in 1934, when she was in the 7th grade.

High school graduation gifts are normally tailored to what the graduate plans to do after graduation, especially if you plan for your gift to be more than just a memento for the occasion. Is the graduate planning on furthering her education by attending college, a trade school or interning somewhere? If so, you may want to determine if there are things that institution requires the graduate to have and purchase something from that list.

Money is always a welcome gift, no matter what the graduate plans to do once graduation is over. In lieu of money, you could give the graduate a gift card to help pay her cell phone bill or to add more gigabytes to her computer.

But what kind of gift does one give to a 93-year-old woman who is not leaving for college, trade school or an internship? Naturally, money works for graduates of all ages. Gift cards to grocery stores, pharmacies, department stores, clothing stores, etc. would all be useful.

If one wanted to give Marie Hill a more personal gift, it would be helpful to know a bit more about her. Marie’s father was a farmer and waterman, farming oyster beds, in particular. Any jewelry with pearls embedded in it would surely be a delight to her.

Marie and her husband, Ernest, sent their child to Chuckatuck Elementary School in 1963 as the first of four African-American parents to embrace integration in Nansemond County. Any articles or pictures from that era would certainly be appreciated.

Marie is a member of the Emma V. Kelly Daughters of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. Any information on the history of this organization would be a real delight to her as this group was founded by her cousin, Emma V. Kelly, in 1902.

However, the best gift you could give to Marie Hill for receiving her GED was not a present, but your presence. The opportunity for that was provided at the celebration provided in honor of her achievement which was like no other graduation party seen in this area before.

Marie Hill is a uniquely strong woman, so her graduation celebration had to be of like kind – and was it ever. Held at the Hilton Garden Inn in the Harbourview section of northern Suffolk, family, friends, tutors, doctors, politicians, elected officials, professional performers, members of the Cheroenhaka Indian Tribe and a host of others packed a large conference room to celebrate her special moment. From 6:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., Marie and her guests were treated to a series of multi-cultural performances that were entertaining, educational and geared to remind all present the importance of knowing from whence they had come so they would have a grip on where they are going.

While guests treated themselves to refreshments, the groups/individuals who would be performing were introduced by Master of Ceremonies, Ross W. Boone. Ross kept the action rolling, but filled in the occasional lull in the action with his dry wit (he is quite the comedian although he claims not to be).

The band, George & Company, provided the music prior to the beginning of the program as well as the music for the dance held for the guests after the program ended (about 10 p.m.). They played a wide variety of music.

Two drummers from Iput-Isut performed two African drum sets. During the first set, an interpretive dancer accompanied them. Between them, you sensed they were telling an important story.

Some of Marie’s great, great grandchildren performed especially for her. Some provided praise dancing, others played short violin pieces, and others recited and/or read poetry they had written. The joy in Marie’s eyes as each performed shone throughout the room just as the love that each of the great, great grandchildren hold for this special woman in their lives could be felt everywhere.

The Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe provided dancers for this celebration, led by none other than Chief Red Hawk himself. Members of the tribe traveled from Courtland, VA where their tribal grounds cover 10 acres as opposed to the 8,100 acres which once belonged to the tribal council. Chief Red Hawk assigned an Indian name to Marie Hill which translates to Strong Woman.

Chief Red Hawk also made about a 15-minute speech about the history of his people. He invited everyone to travel to Courtland for A Celebration of the Corn Harvest – KE-TO-OK-NEY which will be celebrated November 15 – 16, 2014 from 9 a.m. – sunset. He also told guests about Cattashowrock Town which includes a native palisade fort, tribal interpretive trails, powwow grounds and a native sweat lodge. There is also an Iroquoian Long House on site.

A salsa and a cachata performance was provided by dancers who are associated with the Mombo Room Latin Dance Studio. Dancing with the Stars has nothing on the six dancers who had the guests at the edges of their seats throughout their numbers. The studio’s owner gave cards out for one free lesson to anyone who wanted to give it a try at a later date.
Interpretive dances were done to Rudyard Kipling’s If and Jennifer Hudson’s Invisible. Marie clapped with delight as the moves of the dancers matched the words of the poem/song.

Professionally acclaimed violinist, Eric Taylor, became one with his striking blue violin (which matched his tie) as he invited words off its strings. Truly the epitome of what can happen when an instrument is touched by a master, the music seemed to come not so much from the violin but rather from Eric’s very soul. Although an excellent showman, it seemed to come as the only movement possible when hitting those notes.

When Ross Boone introduced Eric Taylor, he noted he had followed Eric around early in his career. Ross said he had to stop when Eric became so popular that he began flying to his bookings while Ross was still driving an older car. Ross also let it be known that Eric could be reached in Hampton, VA if any of the guests wanted to book him for an event.

Three of the city’s Council members – Charles Brown, Mike Duman and Lue Ward - attended the event to honor Marie’s achievement. Councilman Duman read a proclamation from Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson noting Marie’s due diligence in earning her GED. Each of the councilmen spoke as to how Marie Hill had influenced their lives positively.

Last, but not least, two members representing the GED program for Chesapeake Public Schools were there to add their congratulations to Marie. They reminded the audience that Marie spent 2 ½ years to earn her GED, never giving up when she was not successful taking any portion of the test, rather she took the position that “God’s not going to fail me now.”

When Marie had the opportunity to speak, after hours of being celebrated by others, this ever humble woman first gave praise to her God before thanking all who were there to celebrate with her. She also thanked everyone who had any part in helping her accomplish her goal, to which she received a well-deserved standing ovation.

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