The women, who for various reasons didn’t obtain a high school diploma in their teens, donned caps and gowns to get that elusive sheepskin at the Gwinnett County Public Library in Lilburn. The library system offers a free online program where students over 19 can take classes and receive a certified diploma instead of a GED.
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She was doing research at the Lawrenceville branch when she saw a poster about the Career Online program.
Now that she’s made that leap, Harris is no longer among the 14 percent of Georgians over 25 who don’t have a high school diploma. According to the most recent Census figures, that number is slowly decreasing but Georgia still lags behind the U.S. as a whole, which is at 13 percent.
It differs from a GED program in that students receive an actual high school diploma. One of the most significant differences between a GED and a diploma is the fact that some colleges, institutions and organizations require a high school diploma and may not accept the GED, said Charles Pace, the library system’s executive director.
“We started this three years ago with the hopes of making an impact on the community,” he said. “Studies have shown that people with a high school diploma have better health, more income and other factors that lead to a better quality of life.”
In addition to providing a high school diploma, the library helps students earn a career certificate and complete additional job-preparation documents and training. The only requirements are that you have a library card, are at least 19 and have completed eighth grade.
“I love studying and this was so easy,” said the 40-year-old wife and mother. Mai and her family emigrated to the United States four years ago from Vietnam. She had a six-month-old daughter when she decided to further her education and didn’t see how attending classes at a brick-and-mortar building would have been possible.
Mai has been accepted to Georgia State University where she’ll pursue a career in the medical field. She’s torn between nursing and sonography.
“I might try both and see which fits me better,” she said.
It’s success stories like Harris and Mai that make this program a success, said Pace. To date, it has had 31 graduates with the last class consisting of 13. Not all of those graduates made it to the ceremony, which wasn’t mandatory.
Besides offering free tuition, the library allows students to check out laptops and personal hotspots for the duration of the program. Students are also given community mentors to help them, as well as book-a-librarian appointments, which help students with anything from basic Microsoft help to career development.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” said Harris as she hugged her pastor, the Rev. JoeAnn Malone of Salvage Baptist Church. “I hope I inspire my 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and show them how important education is.”
Harris has already completed three semesters at Walden University and has dreams of becoming a psychologist.
“I’ve been through a lot emotionally, physically and spiritually and I have a lot to give to others.”
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Shauna Campbell Brown
Courtany La Martz
Kerry Ann Spence Berry
Georgia graduation rates