Michael Jeffery is a man who defied the odds and achieved his dream of graduating high school at the age of 32. He was living in a tent in a park when he enrolled at Goodwill Excel Center, a free charter high school for adults. He completed his courses in less than a year and graduated as the valedictorian of his class.
Jeffery’s story is one of resilience, determination and courage. He lost his job and his home during the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected millions of people around the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma was 9.1% in September 2021, compared to 4.5% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Jeffery was one of those who struggled to find work and stability without a diploma.
He decided to change his situation by enrolling at Goodwill Excel Center, which provides free child care, coaching and support, college and career pathways, and small class sizes for adult learners. He said he was motivated by his desire to make his family proud and to prove himself wrong. “I always thought I was too dumb to finish school, but I realized that I just needed the right opportunity and guidance,” he said.
Jeffery excelled in his studies, earning a 4.0 GPA and taking advanced courses in math, science and English. He also earned several industry-recognized certifications in computer science, business and health care. He said he enjoyed learning new skills and challenging himself academically. “I discovered that I have a passion for learning and that I can achieve anything I set my mind to,” he said.
He also inspired his classmates and teachers with his positive attitude and work ethic. He participated in online discussions, helped other students with their assignments, and volunteered for extracurricular activities. He said he felt a sense of community and belonging at Goodwill, which he had never experienced before. “The teachers and staff were amazing. They treated me with respect and kindness, and they encouraged me to pursue my goals,” he said.
Jeffery’s hard work paid off when he graduated as the valedictorian of his class in June 2021. He delivered a moving speech at the virtual commencement ceremony, where he thanked his family, friends, teachers and mentors for their support. He also shared his advice for other adult learners who want to earn their diploma. “Don’t let your past define you or limit you. You have the power to change your future. You are smart, you are capable, you are worthy,” he said.
Jeffery’s story is truly inspiring and deserves to be celebrated. He is an example of how education can transform lives and open doors to new opportunities. He plans to continue his education at a local community college, where he hopes to earn an associate degree in computer science. He also wants to help other homeless people by volunteering at a shelter and mentoring them. He said he is grateful for the chance to start over and to make a difference in the world. “I’m not homeless anymore. I’m not hopeless anymore. I’m a high school graduate, and I’m proud of it,” he said.
Paul Lamar Hunter is a living proof that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. Born in 1970 in Racine, Wisconsin, he was the 19th child of James and Louise Hunter, who had 21 children in total. His childhood was marked by poverty, neglect, and tragedy. He lost his father and a brother in a house fire, and his mother struggled to run a homeless shelter she founded.
Despite the hardships, Paul did not give up on his education. He enrolled in Upper Iowa University and earned a degree in business administration in 2012, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. He was 41 years old at the time.
Paul’s remarkable achievement is not only a personal triumph, but also an inspiration for many people who face similar challenges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 23% of African Americans aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2019. Paul hopes to motivate others to overcome their obstacles and pursue their goals. Read more about Paul here.