Coal Canyon High School Graduation

Graduation ceremonies radiate joy no matter where they occur – even in Lovelock Correctional Center’s visiting room. On Monday, June 3, 84 Coal Canyon High School grads wore their blue caps and gowns with pride. 

They’d achieved a milestone.

Another half a dozen men earned associate’s degrees or certificates from Great Basin Community College (GBCC). Their adviser, Angie Canavan, attended the commencement ceremony.

In addition, 25 students received high school equivalency diplomas.

The grads-to-be entered the visiting room to a recording of Pomp and Circumstance. A flag brigade paved the way. As they sat down, several of the blue-robed men waved at their parents, sons and daughters, seated at nearby tables.

Some families traveled from out-of-state to celebrate with their relative. Director Neil Gallagher also acknowledged the families that were unable to attend but supported their relative’s hard work. 

Gallagher introduced keynote speaker, Julie Lyon, a teacher at the medium security prison, home to about 1,680 men. She congratulated the grads-to-be for overcoming obstacles.

“No matter where life has led you in the past, it’s now the present,” she said. “Keep learning and striving. Step up to the next rung.”

Warden Renee Baker agreed.

“I am proud of all of you for taking this step,” she said.

Each man moved his tassel from right to left, the symbol of transition from student to graduate. After collecting their diploma, the grads shook hands with a line of well-wishers.

Canavan and Warden Baker stood beside Kim Petersen, the Nevada Department of Correction’s education coordinator. They joined Lovelock Correctional Center’s teachers: Lance Condie, Lyon, Shari Shirley, Gallagher and Shaun Terry. 

Charles Safford and Alan Pierce also teach at Coal Canyon High School, under the auspices of Pershing County School District.

After the ceremony, the grads and guests shared ice cream and cake. 

A few of the men discussed the hurdles they faced in reaching their goals. One explained that most of them had prison jobs. They learned to budget their time like any other student. 

“In some ways we have fewer distractions,” added a GBC grad. “But it’s harder to pay for tuition and books.”

He explained that when they became inmates, portals to financial aid slammed shut. Those who pursue college degrees rely on support from their families.

According to a 2013 RAND Corporation report, inmates who pursue education and vocational training are less likely to return to prison after release. They are more likely to find jobs than peers who don’t work toward such goals.

The NDOC website says that about 58 percent of Nevada’s inmates come to prison without having finished high school. Seventy-eight percent have minimal job training.

Officials at Lovelock Correctional Center recently awarded 560 vocational certificates, with some learners earning more than one.

“It is our goal that every inmate who leaves prison has a GED or high school diploma,” says Petersen, the education coordinator. On Monday NDOC made significant strides toward that objective.