Wearing her black and white cap and gown, 53-year-old Margaret Beck walked onto the Westminster High School stage to receive her long-awaited high school diploma, while her proud husband, two children and three grandchildren sat in the audience.
Beck, of Hampstead, along with Robert Simpson, 48, of Taneytown, and Jennifer Gustaitis, 23, of Baltimore County, were selected to be the graduation speakers for the 101 adult graduates from the Carroll Adult Learning Connection.
"A couple of years ago, I didn't even dream of having my diploma, and now the sky is the limit," Beck said.
All three graduates credit the learning connection for helping them achieve their goals.
Sponsored by the Carroll County public schools, the learning connection has been offering classes, tutoring, drop-in learning centers and high school diploma programs for adults for more than 10 years.
The learning connection sponsors two adult education programs designed to help adults earn their high school diploma without having to sacrifice their daily schedules.
One is the External Diploma Program and the other is the General Educational Development, or GED program. Through a one-on-one setting with instructors, the external program helps students master required academic skills such as reading, math and spelling.
The students are then given work to complete on their own time, culminating with a final portfolio.
The GED program offers classes and practice tests to prepare the adults to complete a comprehensive 11-hour exam offered over two days, which covers core academic subjects and skills.
All the traditions were planned for Friday's Adult Recognition Ceremony, including student speakers, county school officials, presentation of diplomas and a reception afterwards.
Beck, Simpson and Gustaitis were chosen because they were "people who have worked steadily through the program and are good representatives," said April Shipley, an employee at the Carroll Adult Learning Connection.
The three graduates explained their journeys to graduation.
After deciding that it was just "time to get a job," Beck left high school in 10th grade and worked at various coffee shops until she married and had two children. She later worked at a nursing home as a housekeeper for 25 years before deciding to become a medical technician.
Beck completed the External Diploma Program in a year and a half.
She said she wants to go to college to take courses in computer science and ultimately work in office management.
Simpson also completed the External Diploma Program.
"It's really a great program," Simpson said. He tried other adult programs but preferred this one.
He said he wanted to become an electrician and realized that he needed to earn a high school diploma, concentrating on subjects such as spelling and reading.
Forced to leave high school in the ninth grade and work at odd jobs to make ends meet, Simpson said he knew there were "other things I want to do in life," which may include additional schooling.
Gustaitis completed the GED program, meeting with an instructor by appointment every Monday morning at William Winchester Elementary School. She left in the middle of her high school career after a disagreement with her counselor.
After working at an insurance company for several years, Gustaitis decided to go back to school and earn her diploma. Getting the diploma was difficult because of her job, she said.
Even though Gustaitis was studying for her license in the insurance agency, she said she knew that getting the diploma was essential, if she wanted to go into another field.
She works temporarily at a travel agency in Owings Mills and devotes much of her time to her 21-month-old daughter.
Simpson said the program helped him grasp specific skills he needed. He said he valued that there was no pressure to learn the material such as the kind he experienced in high school.
Knowing that she didn't have the time to sit in a classroom for hours, Beck recommended the External Diploma Program for anyone who has been out of the classroom for an extended period of time.
Going at her own pace, Beck worked with instructors at her convenience and completed her assignments at home.
Simpson recommended the programs for adults who want to strengthen their academic skills. In his graduation speech, he encouraged that the program be continued.
"I recommend it to anybody" Simpson said.
To enroll in classes or to find out more information about the GED Program, the External Diploma Program or other adult education services provided, contact the Carroll Adult Learning Connection at 410-751-3680.