When Sherry Lawrence receives her high school diploma today at the Eudora Community Learning Center, she will be living the advice she’d long doled out to others.
Lawrence, who’s in her 60s but wouldn’t divulge her exact age, always touted education’s benefits to her four children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Not to mention the 83 children she has watched at her day care during the last 32 years.
“When I had my day care, I would always tell the kids that school was the most important thing and I thought, ‘You’re telling them this, so why don’t you go back?’” said Lawrence, who dropped out of high school midway through her junior year.
Lawrence said she had thought about returning to school for several years, but health problems prevented that. Then in 2006, she called her former high school in Marion, Ind., and asked for her transcripts so she could go back to school.
“I didn’t hesitate, because I figured if I did I would chicken out,” she said.
She received encouragement from her husband, Norm, and other family members.
Lawrence said learning center coordinator Angie Miller provided key support helping overcome what was an initially difficult re-entry to the world of learning.
“She encourages you even if you feel like you’re not doing a good job,” Lawrence said.
Miller said she realized that Lawrence was a bit apprehensive at first, but that as she progressed through the lessons, her self-confidence increased.
“She just needed a little push, and it’s wonderful and I’m so happy that she’s going to finish,” Miller said. “She’s definitely up there with the memorable students because she’s accomplished this amazing goal.”
Miller wasn’t the only one who helped Lawrence.
Lawrence had trouble reading text on computer screens, so Norm increased the text size. When it came time to do an assignment on space, she asked Norm’s sister, who works for NASA, for help; and she asked her daughter, who is an artist, for help on an art assignment.
Next week, she will retire from the day care business, and she and Norm hoped to buy a camper and visit some of the places she learned about in her studies.
She also plans to write her life story.
“I feel like, in life, you have to set goals,” Lawrence said. “I’m the type of person where if I start out to do something, I want to accomplish it no matter how long it takes me.
“I also wanted to show my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren that school is a very important part of their life.”
Lawrence has invited all 83 of her past and present day care charges to the graduation ceremony.
Holly Kracl, who took her children to Lawrence’s house for nearly 12 years, said her family would attend the ceremony.
“It’s important for us to support her and say thank you for all of the years she put off doing it (returning to school) because she was taking care of our kids,” she said.
Holly’s daughter Lauren Kracl recalled with fondness the time she spent at the home of Sherry and Norm Lawrence — called “mama” and “papa” by the children attending the day care.
“Something that had to do with education was incorporated into every day,” she said. “It wasn’t just a day care where you went and watched TV.
“I’m proud of her. She’s probably the most wonderful person I’ve ever met in my life.”