Tomeka Hudson receives her diploma from Mercy Learning Center's Jaci Coleman before friends and family.

Jessenia Rivera is a certified nursing assistant who used her maternity leave to study new skills. Jasmin Masso is a mother of four with strong math and writing skills, but no piece of paper to prove it. Tomeka Hudson worked to improve in math and now can pursue her passion, cooking, as a career.

These three women and two others who were honored by Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport came from different backgrounds and have different goals. But as of last month, they all have something in common: After years of waiting, they can finally say they have high school diplomas.

The group is the latest batch of graduates from Mercy Learning Center’s National External Diploma Program (NEDP). The course allows people who, for whatever reason, did not complete high school to earn their diplomas as adults. Mercy Learning Center’s program focuses especially on working mothers who want to improve their careers.

Unlike the better-known General Education Development (GED) system, the NEDP isn’t centered on high-school style classes leading up to a final exam. Instead, the program has students earn their diplomas by demonstrating skills they’ve already learned in their working lives.

For example, Hudson already had a passion and skill with food from her work in the service industry. But she needed some help with mathematics to earn a diploma and enter culinary school. She worked with the organization’s tutors to improve her math and then breezed through the NEDP program to get her diploma.

Similarly, Rivera needed a little help with math tutoring, but had already learned most of the skills needed for the NEDP through her work as a certified nurses’ assistant. After giving birth to her third child, she used part of her maternity leave to learn CPR and First Aid and finish her NEDP studies. She now hopes to earn a higher-level degree in the medical field.

Hudson and Rivera received their diplomas along with Masso and two other graduates just before Christmas. Fairfield’s Jaci Coleman, a member of MLC’s board of directors, presented certificates to the women in a ceremony before their friends and families.

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