Area residents reflect on their paths to attaining General Education Development degrees.
When she was in high school, McLouth resident Stephanie "Stevie" Davis wanted out.
She left her junior year and never went back.
"I was rebellious," she said. "I wanted to get married."
She did marry, twice, and both times the marriage ended in divorce.
Along the way she had four children, including a daughter who had health problems and died before her second birthday.
"The more I've gone through, the harder life seems," Davis said. "Now, it seems an education is the only way to go."
Davis and 32 other students received their diplomas Tuesday at the annual GED graduation ceremony at Free State High School. They were among the 170 students who received degrees through the General Education Development program at the Lawrence public schools Adult Learning Center during the past year.
Two of the recipients have died since completing their GED.
"I want to get a better-paying job," Davis said. "I want to do this for my kids and for my self-esteem. It makes me feel better about myself. Education is a real powerful thing."
At 39, Davis studied for her degree with her son Gary Harper, 17.
"We tried to help each other out," he said.
The hardest subject for each of them was math.
"We just kept studying," Harper said.
Davis is already making up for missed opportunities. Today she begins studying for entrance exams to a clerical school, and one day hopes to get a clerical job with law enforcement in Jefferson County.
Davis is not alone in her story.
GED graduate Bonnie Logan was selected as the graduation speaker. Logan told her peers that it took her 25 years to complete a degree.
"Getting my diploma always seemed out of reach," she said.
Logan said she often lied about her education in order to get jobs, and her "dreams got pushed further and further back."
Now, with her diploma, she plans on attending college next fall and wants to work in human relations.
Robert Eales, director of the continuing education program for Lawrence public schools, said the ceremony is important because it rewards hard work.
"It's a completion," he said. "It represents a phase in their life. It reflects reaching a goal."
Many of the graduates are role models for their family, Eales said.
"This is something they want to share with their family and friends," he said. "They're a tenacious group. No one is making them do this. They've done it on their own."
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.