WESTMINSTER -- When Linda S. Slate went back to school 26 years after leaving high school, she knew the math, English and computer classes would tax her brain.
"I had tough times with commas and semicolons," she said, laughing. "It was rough, but I got through."
Slate, 43, a Hampstead resident, worked for 15 years packing meat at Dutterer's of Manchester Corp. When the plant closed last December, she had no skills to offer a new employer.
"I was working in a freezer; I didn't need to use my brain," said Slate, a divorced mother of two who left high school after the 11th grade to follow her husband to an Air Force base. Thirteen years later she obtained a high-school equivalency diploma.
When she starts her job search this week, she will have much to offer.
Slate and 15 other women graduated Thursday night from the clerical skills training program sponsored by the county's job training office and Carroll Community College. About 100 people attended the event.
The program retrains people who have been laid off from their jobs and need to learn new skills.
The graduates, ages 16 to 60, studied for four months to improve their chances of finding a clerical job. They also had six weeks of part-time on-the-job training.
Slate worked at the county's Department of Public Works. She was pleased that the typing and other work she did actually was used by her supervisors.
"It made me feel important," she said.
"Everybody's always looking for something better," Slate added.
Diane Massey, director of the job training office, told the graduates, "You are an inspiration to us and your children and your family. Please never stop dreaming, living, learning, giving.
"Good grammar, spelling and math skills are essential to building a world-class work force," she said.
Slate was nervous before and during the ceremony at the community college. She smiled throughout, but wasn't relaxed until it was over and her 76-year-old mother, Ruby Groft, made it official with a hug.
Slate's son, daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and sister also attended the ceremony, which her niece, Judy Stebbings of Westminster, captured on videotape.
What Slate didn't know was that when she arrived home, there would be a party. Her daughter, Gail Green of Littlestown, had quickly assembled the celebration after her mother left for the ceremony.
Slate planned to look into three job openings this week: one as a computer operator at a photography studio and two in offices as a receptionist.