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Tammy and Lloyd Poates grew up quickly.

Lloyd Poates, 35, dropped out of the ninth grade to help his divorced mother with expenses. Tammy Poates, 34, left school in the 11th grade when she became pregnant.

On Friday, they walked across the stage at Westminster High School in Carroll County's Adult Graduation Recognition Ceremony.

The Poateses, who live in Union Bridge, were among 40 students in the ceremony for adults who earned high school diplomas between July and May. In the audience were their daughters, Chanteau, 16, and Christina, 13.

"My oldest daughter's in high school," Mrs. Poates said. "And I can't expect her to graduate if I didn't."

Mr. Poates said he always wanted to take classes to get his diploma, but couldn't because of his job.

"I went back to night school on two or three occasions," he said, but he never finished his course work because of his construction job.

Friday's ceremony took on added meaning because all of the students had demonstrated perseverance in earning their diplomas.

"It's really amazing, considering some of the circumstances they deal with, that they come in and keep going for it," said Pat Tyler, an adult education instructor at the Family Support Center.

Two years ago, Cassandra Stultz, 18, couldn't have imagined herself taking part in a high school graduation ceremony. She had just given birth to a daughter and had no job, no money and no transportation. She had stopped attending Francis Scott Key High School at 14, and officially dropped out two years later.

Ms. Stultz is a high school graduate and a student at Carroll Community College. She earned her equivalency diploma in December and now attends Carroll Community College. Her daughter, Suskia, 2, was in the audience Friday.

"I am so happy now," Ms. Stultz said. "I can't believe that I've come so far in two years."

Such triumphs make the recognition ceremony an emotional event.

"We're very proud of them," said Jeanne Clark, regional director of the Maryland Adult External Diploma Program. "It's so wonderful when we call out the graduates' names to hear, 'Yeah Mom!' or, 'Go Grandma.' "

The students earned their diplomas by taking the General Educational Development (GED) test, which measures academic skills, or by completing the Maryland Adult External Diploma Program.

The adult program allows students to demonstrate proficiency through assignments related to life experiences, including such things as writing a letter to seek employment and knowing the names of local elected officials.

Although some students technically received their diplomas months ago, a graduation ceremony, complete with "Pomp and Circumstance" and cap and gown, made it real.

"I think it kind of seals it in posterity," Ms. Tyler said. "Students have told me that they really feel like they've graduated when they walk across the stage."

Ms. Stultz said she was motivated by her mother's return to college after 25 years.

"I saw what she did and decided to use any means I could to get there too," she said.

Shortly after Suskia's birth, Ms. Stultz began taking classes at the Family Support Center in Westminster to prepare for her GED test.

The center arranged for travel for her to and from the center. by Carroll Transit. While she was in class, Suskia was supervised by child development workers at the center.

"I didn't have a ride, I couldn't afford day care and I couldn't afford a tutor," Ms. Stultz said. "Without the Family Support Center, I would probably not have a diploma right now."

Mr. Poates decided to get his GED after a 1992 accident forced him to retire from construction.

He said he plans to attend college and is considering engineering and physical therapy as careers. While recovering from the car accident, Mr. Poates said he became interested in physical rehabilitation.

Mrs. Poates, a nursing assistant, got her high school diploma through the Maryland Adult External Diploma Program. She plans to become certified.

For her, perhaps the most gratifying thing associated with her graduation was the congratulatory letter she received a letter from President Clinton.

"The future requires that each of us become a life-long learner," the president wrote. "I applaud you for taking responsibility for your future."

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