Richard Powell, 46, of Yosemite Lakes Park, never graduated from high school - until June 5 when Powell and 13 other students received their diplomas through the Yosemite Unified School District Adult Education program.
The graduation ceremony for the graduates, who ranged in age from 18 to 61, was held at Mountain Christian Center.
School was never easy for Powell who, as a youngster, attended at least 20 schools in four states over a 10-year period.
“Because the required curriculum was not the same at different schools, I spent two years in the 9th grade and two years in the 10th grade at four different schools due to our family’s frequent moves,” Powel explained. “I remember attending five different schools in two years in the same area of Oklahoma when I was young.”
Thinking school was not for him, Powell dropped out and went to work at McDonald’s and in the kitchens of a few restaurants.
“I didn’t have the drive to finish high school and I would just take jobs anywhere to make some money,” Powell said.
When he was 28, he got his class III license and started driving big rig trucks in Missouri, then later in the Central Valley.
“Driving trucks is physically demanding, but I like it,” Powell said. Although not currently employed, he has been driving trucks off and on for the past 18 years.
It was late last year, when Powell heard Fresno Transit was hiring bus drivers, that he realized it was time to get his diploma.
“When I went to Fresno City Hall to apply, there was a big sign posted at the transit office that said ‘High School Diploma or GED Required for Employment,’” Powell said. “That’s when I decided it was time to get my high school diploma. I not only wanted it, but I needed it if I was going to get a decent job.”
Soon after Powell met Tony Misner, a teacher in the Yosemite Adult Education program, which is under the direction of Dr. Stacy Nicol.
Misner said Powell came to the adult education program in November of 2016 on a mission.
“Once I received his transcripts I could tell that it was going to take at least a year for him to meet all the requirements for graduation. I sat down with him just before our winter break and told him his graduation date was going to most likely be December of 2017. I told him I did not think there was any chance that he could do it by June.”
Powell smiled at Misner and told him matter-of-factly - “That is not my plan. I need to be done by June.”
“At first I was told it would take 18 months to get my diploma, but when Tony saw how fast I was progressing, he said, OK, maybe you can do this in a year,” Powell said.
“Most of the people in class check in with the teacher once a week, but I was going three and four days a week and taking five to 11 tests a week,” Powell said. “Tony led me in the right direction and I worked hard on everything he gave me. The lowest grade I got was a ‘C’ in biology - I didn’t like biology and it didn’t like me, but I got a year’s worth of work done in a month.”
Powell couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishment of getting his high school diploma.
Long time coming
“It was a long time coming but here I am, 28 years later, with my high school diploma,” beamed Powell. “The graduation ceremony made me feel like I was 18 years old again ... at least for a while. The whole experience was very humbling. I owe Tony a lot for helping me. He is a good man who has compassion for his students. Teacher Dana Hall and math teacher Pat Burnham also helped me. Without the three of them, I would not have gotten this done.”
Powell is now going through the hiring process with the City of Fresno with a whole new level of confidence.
Powell encourages anyone who has put off getting their high school diploma to go to talk to the staff at the Adult Education program at Yosemite High.
“Just go and do it,” Powell said. “If you want it, they are there for you, but if you keep putting it aside, you’ll never get it done. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty that you did not get your diploma earlier, get it and you’ll see that it will open doors for you to go to college, a trade school and to get a decent job. Some young students take an education for granted. They should know they are blessed to be able to get an education.”
“Richard made a liar out of me by finishing all of his requirements by June,” Misner said.
On graduation night, Misner told Powell he was very proud of him and he had never been so happy to have been wrong.
“I told Richard well done and thanked him for all his hard work,” Misner said. “Richard is a great example that it is never too late to finish your high school education.”
Third time a charm
Laurie Wood, 61, also received her diploma on June 5.
The long delay was due to staying home to assist her husband with his medical issues, as well as working full time as cook at a nursing home in Auberry.
“This is my third time in the past 20 years to attempt to get my high school diploma,” Wood said. “It’s something I have always wanted to do and I was determined to get it done this time. When I got to class, I met Dana (Hall) and her motivation and support made all the difference in the world, as did my whole family with some extra help from my daughter Sunny and my husband Norm. I didn’t want any of my nine grandchildren saying grandma never got her high school diploma.”
Wood was proud to say one of her grandchildren is graduating Sunday from UC Santa Cruz, and two recently graduated from kindergarten.
Joline Martinez spoke at the graduation ceremony about the importance of students to get their diploma. She knows how important it is being a graduate of Ahwahnee High School (one of the districts alternative high schools) and went on to get her credential in mathematics. She will be teaching at Yosemite High School in the fall.
During the ceremony, Jonathan Flores, 42 of Coarsegold, received a $500 scholarship from the El Capitan Educational Foundation to further his studies at the Oakhurst Community College Center and received another $300 from the New Horizon Adult Education Scholarship. The New Horizon scholarship was established by two retired adult education staff members, Janice Dissemeyer and Roberta Tacket, to assist adult students deserving of some assistance.
The Sunrise Rotary Club awarded $ 250 to Amanda McVay, 31, of Coarsegold, to assist her in realizing her dream of becoming a nurse.
In addition to the Adult Education graduates, 20, eight and three students graduated from Evergreen, Ahwahnee and Yosemite Falls alternative high school, respectively.