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Dropped out? Getting GED can be path to a better life

Different ages, different reasons, different futures, one common goal achieved.

Next Tuesday, about 25 graduates will take part in the GED graduation ceremony -- among them Tim Erickson, 20, Elena Acosta, 28, and Rachel Williams, 65.

"I wanted to have finished my high school education," Williams said was her reason for returning after all these years to complete her GED. And now that she has grandchildren, she wanted to show them how important education is.

Williams said she never finished school because she had married young and couldn't afford going to school.

Acosta gives a reason for stopping and starting that is more common with her generation. She quit school when she turned 16 because she hated it.

"I was failing ninth grade," she said.

But, after attending the Job Corps, which didn't work out, she said, she "started the process (to get her GED) but then took quite a while off. I got pregnant with my daughter and that kicked me in the butt to get it done."

Erickson said his reason for going back to get his GED was simple. He met a girl who wouldn't have a serious relationship with him if he didn't get his GED and get a good job. It worked. He's graduating, plans to take mechanic classes in college and possibly move to Alaska.

"I couldn't get a job. Everyone looked down on me," he said because he didn't have his high school diploma.

These three grads prove "there is no typical GED student," Coordinator Kathy Simison said.

She said there are about 375 participants a year that take courses through adult learning -- not necessarily to get a GED -- and about 55 graduates a year. And most, if not all, applications for jobs and colleges lump diploma and GED in one category, valuing the two as the same.

"It's pretty special to me," Williams said of her GED, even if it's not a diploma or degree.

But that's not to say students should drop out of high school and change to the GED program. Simison said as part of the Detroit Lakes School District, the adult learning center encourages students 16-18 to stay in school.

When they made the decision to finally go back and get their GEDs, Acosta said she was scared at first. And although frustrated at times, she liked the support and encouragement the teachers gave her.

"It's about confidence. It's definitely a key," she said.

She added that her math teacher Patti DeGroat "helped me understand math so much better."

"I was kind of hyped," Williams said about starting the process. "It was something I needed to do for myself."

"It's a lot of weight off your shoulders," Erickson said is just one reason he'd encourage others to return for their GEDs. "There are better job opportunities, too."

"Even if you're not going further into your education, it's still a rewarding accomplishment," Williams added.

"The sooner you get it done, the better," Acosta said.

The GED program is designed to go at each student's own pace. Testing is done each Tuesday, and students are given 12 hours of prep time for each test.

"It's what they design for themselves," Simison said.

All of the services at Lakes Learning are free, except for the $70 fee required to take the official Minnesota GED tests.

Average age for the program is 23, but students run from 17 to 80 years old, proving it's never too late to go back.

The graduation ceremony -- complete with cap and gown and coffee and cake afterward -- is Tuesday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Education Center gymnasium.

"My mom still asks me if I'm joking," Erickson said of his impending graduation.

"It feels good when someone says, 'good job,'" Acosta said.

For more information on getting your GED, call Lakes Learning at 847-4418.