Gabriella Murray

Gabriella with her familySometimes we are thrown curveballs in life but we can’t let that stop us from achieving our goals. Gabriella Murray was in high school when she became pregnant and was unable to graduate with her class, but she didn’t let that stop her from getting her high school equivalency (HSE) diploma from Muscatine Community College (MCC).

“I dropped out of high school, but then I ended up coming back," said Murray. "I needed to show my kids that no matter what age you can come back and figure it out.”

Murray has been a stay at home mom taking care of her seven-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. Not completing her high school diploma has had a big impact on her life.

“I’ve been able to take care of my family, but it’s been hectic. Jobs want it [HSE diploma] and now I can put it down and go after more goals.”

Murray was able to complete the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) at MCC in less than a month, helping her leap forward towards her next step in life very quickly. She passed all of her final assessments with flying colors, surpassing her own expectations of herself.

“I was really surprised, I was shocked, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, really?' This was a big accomplishment for me.” 

With each hurdle, Murray had caring instructors who wanted to see her succeed. No matter the set-backs, even after COVID and a car accident, Murray continued coming back.

“Each time I came back they said, 'I’m glad you’re here, I’m glad you're back, now let's get this out of the way,' you know, encouraging. They didn’t look down at me or anything for not getting my HSE diploma, they wanted to help me fulfill my goal.” 

Murray plans to continue furthering her education at MCC with the help of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges' (EICC) scholarship. She was surprised to find that every graduate who completes the program recieves three, free credit hours to use up to two years after their graduation date.

“That’s why I’m just going to keep going.” 

Murray now aspires to get a degree in healthcare, following in her mother's footsteps. Her mother always worked in nursing homes which has played a big role in Murray's life.

Looking back at her time at MCC, Murray feels a great sense of accomplishment. She hopes to encourage others to go after their goals and work towards a brighter future.

“Just do it and be proud of yourself. It doesn’t matter what age or where you’re at in life.”

Caleb Blieu

Caleb posing at graduationA degree can be just what people need to get ahead.

This was the case for Caleb Blieu, who also completed MCC's HSE program. Blieu had many distractions that led him away from high school and into blue collar work.

“I was too focused on my friends, going out and partying, and doing whatever I wanted to do," Blieu said about the obstacles and that got in his way.

He knew he wanted more from life and after a bad motorcycle accident. He was ready for a change.

“It was too much for my body to keep up with. So, I was like, 'You know what? I need to get it done.'”

Blieu broke the C6 vertebra in his neck, a lower vertebrae in his back, and several ribs making the work he was doing very painful. He was unable to work for eight months. Even more, he was put on a 25-pound weight restriction.

“I mean I hurt you know but I do everything like it didn’t happen.”

Desite the obstacles he faced, he received nothing but support from the faculty and staff at MCC.

“Everybody was really helpful, it went really quick, and here I am. I just passed everything and graduated. I definitely doubted myself and probably shouldn’t have.”

Blieu hopes to pursue a degree in social work to help troubled youth and people who had a similar upbringing to him.

“I think it's opened up an opportunity for me to go to college and further my life, I think it’s a great idea for anybody considering doing it.” 

With Blieu's family there in support, his graduation day was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. Today he graduated not only for himself, but also for his family who never left his side.

“It feels really good, it feels good to make them proud and to make myself proud and see them smile for me too, that feels really good.”