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85-year-old graduate: 'I did it!'


HAGERSTOWN -- Nearly 70 years after dropping out of high school, Carolyn Hill raised her arms in the air and shouted "I did it!"

Hill, 85, spent a lifetime waiting for the moment when she could call herself a high school graduate.

"I've wanted to do this," said Hill on Sunday . "I feel great ... I feel brighter. I'm just so happy that I'm able to do this."

The Hagerstown resident was one of 88 students to graduate this year from the Adult Education and Literacy Services program -- a grant-funded program through Hagerstown Community College. Graduates received high school diplomas through the GED and external diploma program, which focuses on life skills.

Thirty-two graduates participated in Sunday's commencement at HCC.

Hill, who was the guest speaker during the ceremony, said that as a teenager, she believed that money was more important than her education. So, she decided to drop out of high school at age 17, after completing 10th grade. She went to work full time at a local store, earning $11 a week.


"That was just a lot of money back then," Hill said.

Growing up poor and with eight siblings, she said she was lucky to have 10 cents a week to spend on a movie ticket.

"So, $11 a week ... that looked good to me," Hill said.

Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri called Hill "an inspiration to all of us."

Fatima Cruz, 26, of Hagerstown, dropped out of high school in 10th grade after giving birth to her second daughter.

"It was hard to keep up with the homework with two toddlers," said Cruz, of Hagerstown.

On Sunday, with her three children and husband, Miguel, by her side, Cruz received her high school diploma. She said she was inspired to return to school by her children.

Her 11-year-old will be graduating from elementary school this year and is already talking about college. Occasionally, her daughter asks Cruz questions about her own education and graduation.

"I wanted to give her a great example," Cruz said.

She said it was difficult earning her diploma while balancing family and full-time work as an office manager at a local dentist's office.

"Never give up," Cruz said. "It took me 11 years, but you can do it."

Tearing up at times, she said Sunday's commencement was an emotional and "long-awaited day."

David Tadeo, 30, said he was inspired to go back to school for his high school diploma by his two children. Tadeo, of Hagerstown, said he also thinks having his diploma will help his career.

"Nowadays, you need a high school diploma to get a job," he said.

He currently works at Synagro Technologies Inc. in Hagerstown, in maintenance, but said his diploma could help him advance in the company.

Tadeo said he was nervous before Sunday's ceremony.

"I never knew what they meant about butterflies before now," he said.

Rick Unger, 49, of Hancock, also is hoping that his high school diploma will help his career. Unger worked for 24 years at Rayloc in Hancock before the company closed in March 2008.

Unger has been unemployed since that time and said he hopes his high school diploma will help him find a job.

"This will open up more doors for me," he said.

Unger dropped out of school in ninth grade to work full time, and said Sunday that he feels different now that he has his diploma.

"I feel better about myself," he said.

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