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Grandparents graduate at GED ceremony

June 24, 1998

by RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

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GED GradsBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

It's not every day that a graduate's father and grandchildren are on hand for high school graduation.

But when Les and Jean Milburn walked across the stage at South Hagerstown High School Wednesday night, their supporters - including Jean Milburn's father and five of their nine grandchildren, ranging in age from 11 to 18 - cheered them on at the graduation ceremony.

--cont from news--

Both dropped out of high school in the 1950s and didn't look back until years later.

Jean Milburn, 58, said she and her husband talked about their regrets off and on in recent years.

"It's just something we wanted to do for a long time," she said. "It's a door we left open. We just wanted to go back and shut the door we left open."

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Les Milburn, 60, said he started thinking more about missing a high school degree when he started his family. He recalled several jobs he did not even bother applying for because he had no diploma.

"I guess I've been waiting for this for 42 years," he said.

The Milburns were two of 64 students who received adult education degrees on Wednesday. The couple opted for the External Diploma Program, one of three different degrees awarded Wednesday.

In the External Diploma Program, students demonstrate life skills by completing six different workbooks. Students work at their one pace in the program that requires them to demonstrate 64 skills ranging from resume writing to map reading to math.

Jean Milburn said she was in the middle of her junior year at Williamsport High School when she became disenchanted with school.

After repeatedly begging her parents to let her drop out, she said her father told her that she could take one day off to look for a job. If she found one, she could quit, but if not, she had to stop asking to leave.

"And I came back with a job, unfortunately," she said.

Milburn worked for a few months as a sales clerk at McCrory's in Hagerstown before getting a job a Maryland Ribbon Co., where her father worked.

She said she was at her aunt's house when Les Milburn spotted her. He had dropped out of Boonsboro High School a few years earlier to work on the family farm near Keedysville.

They began dating and were married two years later.

Her father, Ellis W. "Buck" Rhodes, 78, could not say much when his daughter failed to finish high school because he had only a fifth grade education.

Rhodes said his daughter did not tell him she was pursuing a degree until she called a few days ago to invite him to the graduation ceremony.

"It was unexpected," he said. "(But) I'm never surprised at things. It takes a lot to surprise me."

It was not economic necessity that led the Milburns to obtain their high school diplomas.

The couple ran a successful construction business for 25 years and raised four children.

They live in a spacious ranch-style house on eight acres off Broadfording Road.

Jean Milburn said young people today could not get away with what she did.

"It's not that this has held us back, but I think for a young person today, it would," she said. "For my generation, to go to college, there were very few. And now this generation, you'd better go."

Les Milburn, too, said a high school diploma is now indispensable. It was for him. He recently got a job with the Washington County Roads Department after selling his construction business.

Milburn had just completed his sophomore year when he quit to work on the farm.

"I guess I used that as an excuse. I didn't like school," he said.

Teresa Kelly, one of the Milburns' daughters, said dropping out was never a consideration when she and her siblings were growing up.

"They're just living the inspiration they've always given us," she said.

And now that a high school degree is in the bag, what's next?

Jean Milburn said she has thought about taking classes at Hagerstown Junior College.

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