Graduation holds special meaning for adults who took nontraditional route

Carolyn Johnson said she had passed everything she needed to graduate high school except math when she dropped out 1974. And she tried a number of times after that to complete her GED.

“I had gone back when I was 19 and just didn’t take it seriously,” she said. “So then in 2007, after going through a divorce, I decided that I would do it again. I went for two years, plus going back to work. Then I ended up having back surgery and had some health issues, and lost three family members within four months of each other.”

Through it all, though, Johnson never gave up her desire to finish high school. And on Thursday night, all her work paid off when she finally picked up her GED.

“So it’s taken a while, but it’s something I’ve always wanted from the time I originally quit high school,” she said.

Johnson was among 114 people who picked up their diplomas or certificates Thursday night after completing the Lawrence school district’s adult learning and diploma completion programs.

“I truly believe this is one of the most meaningful ceremonies we host in the Lawrence public schools,” Superintendent Rick Doll said in his address to the graduates. “Your achievements are meaningful because you made education a priority while balancing jobs, family responsibilities and other commitments.”

That was true for Ryan Daily, one of the graduate speakers at the ceremony, who acknowledged that his path to graduation involved some emotional and difficult decisions.

At 16, Daily said, he dropped out of high school to work and support his family. By age 18 he had started a family of his own. He was married at age 20 and was divorced by the time he was 25.

“I tried so hard to prove to people in my life who said I needed a high school diploma or a GED to succeed that they were wrong,” Daily said. “And I’m here to say, I was wrong.”

But for Cassie Ramirez and her fiance, Steven Bishop, starting a family was the inspiration to go back to school together, and to graduate together.

Holding their 7-month-old son on her hip, Ramirez said she knew she had to go back, “because if I didn’t graduate, then there was no reason for him to graduate.”

“For him,” Bishop said, gleaming with pride. “It’s all for our son.”