‘IT’S WORTH IT’: Vicksburg McDonald’s employee Earnestine Thomas honored with graduation party

Published 4:27 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

Friends, family and colleagues gathered at the Iowa Boulevard McDonald’s on Thursday for a surprise celebration for Earnestine Thomas, who recently earned her high school diploma through the Archways to Opportunity program.

Originally from Port Gibson, Thomas has worked as a shift manager at McDonald’s for the past 10 years. Over the past 18 months, she has been completing the online coursework required for the degree.

“It was hard. It was a long process. There were times that I wanted to give up,” Thomas said. “But I had a good academic coach. She stayed on me, you know, telling me that I could do it, not to give up.”

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The Archways to Opportunity program is run by the McDonald’s Corporation and is free of charge to employees. The program allows those who qualify to enroll in online courses with the goal of earning their high school diploma equivalent.

Thomas said she has been wanting to get her high school diploma for some time.

“(I felt I needed) to go and get my high school diploma to set an example for my kids. I want them to finish school,” she said.

Thomas also said that she isn’t certain about what the future holds, but she is considering a career in retail sales. The diploma includes a career certificate. That certificate signifies that four of the courses taken in the program were focused on professional training for a specific professional field, such as retail and customer service, security and manufacturing. Thomas chose to focus on retail and customer service.

More than a dozen people attended the surprise party to show their support and extend their congratulations to Thomas. The party, complete with pizza, cake and balloons, was organized by Vicksburg McDonald’s franchise owners Melanie Roach and Michael Roach.

Melanie and her husband moved to Vicksburg about 22 years ago when they purchased a Mcdonald’s location. Prior to that, she had worked for McDonald’s for 20 years. The couple operates multiple McDonald’s restaurants throughout Vicksburg and the surrounding area.

Melanie spoke about how much she values Thomas as an employee.

“She opens the restaurant five days a week. We wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” she said. “She’s very loyal, very dedicated.”

Melanie also emphasized her pride in the hard work and persistence Thomas has put into her coursework.

“She started in the high school diploma program about 18 months ago,” she said. “And it’s not easy, but she stuck with it, got through it. And now has her high school diploma equivalent.”

The Archways to Opportunity program is available to McDonald’s employees who meet requirements.

“There are two different programs, the high school diploma equivalency, and also college tuition,” Roach said. “So employees that have worked for us for a minimum of three months, and work a minimum of 20 hours a week, are eligible for either of those programs.”

Thomas spoke about the importance of having completed her high school education.

“I would just encourage anyone that hasn’t gotten their high school diploma to get it,” she said. “It’s definitely worth it. Times are getting hard now.”