Mary Norman attended classes at the Lincolnton Library for six years, knowing failure was not an option.
She dropped out of school in 1956, and she wasn't dropping out again.
On Friday night, the 66-year-old Lincolnton woman joined nearly 100 people in accepting Augusta Technical College General Educational Development diplomas during a ceremony at Cross Creek High School.
Earning a GED seemed to hold a different meaning for each graduate.
For Ms. Norman, it meant success and a chance to further her education. She failed the GED test three times but passed it the fourth.
Math and science seemed tougher than it did 40 years ago, she said.
"I wanted to stop several times, but every time, people would keep urging me to keep trying," she said. "I would take the test and fail it. People would tell me to keep trying and don't give up."
Ms. Norman had her children with her Friday as she accepted her diploma.
"I am very happy," she said.
Angie Sites, 20, returned to get her GED two years after getting married and pregnant. She dropped out of her high school in Ohio to take care of her baby. She recently moved to Augusta when the Army brought her husband to Fort Gordon, and she decided to return to school.
"It just makes me feel better because so many people look down on you because you drop out. I missed out on a lot, and this makes me feel better," Mrs. Sites said.
The diploma also sets a positive example for her daughter and provides a ticket to college, she said.
"I want to be a nurse, so I will probably start in the fall," she said.
College officials say people of all ages return to get their GED because they know it provides more opportunity in the job market. From January 2003 to April 2004, 1,808 students earned their GED from Augusta Tech.
"For a lot of them, it is self-satisfaction. The kids are out now, so they have time to go back for themselves," said Howie Gunby, Augusta Tech's adult literacy director. "A lot were teenagers when they dropped out."
That describes Mary Barrineau, who dropped out 23 years ago because she was pregnant. But she didn't let it stop her. The Beech Island woman worked as a welder, office manager and senior advertising executive. Now she owns Barrineau's Package Store in Clearwater and runs Make It Happen Marketing.
Earning her GED this year at age 39 was a personal ambition, she said.
"I can open doors for myself without a GED. I've proven that," she said. "It's more of a personal goal."
In Lincolnton, though, Ms. Norman said she spent a lifetime being denied her dreams because of a lack of education. She worked in factories, sewing plants and a chicken processing plant.
"You pretty much have to work where ever," she said. "Things I wanted to do, I didn't have an education and I couldn't do."
Now, she can dream again.
"I just feel I can further my education and maybe, hopefully, do something to help someone else."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Augusta Technical College offers classes in General Educational Development (GED) preparation, English Literacy Program (ELP), family literacy and workplace literacy. They are offered during the day and evening at locations throughout the college's five-county service area in Burke, Columbia, Lincoln, McDuffie and Richmond counties. For more information on enrolling in classes, call (706) 771-4131.
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