Dream of diploma finally achieved

May 15, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Evelyn Joslin and T. Francis Cochran grew up in different worlds and have never met. She was a city girl in Baltimore, and he was a country boy in Bel Air.

But for the past 50 years, the two high-school dropouts have shared the same dream -- completing their education.

Last week, Mrs. Joslin and Mr. Cochran, both 67, achieved that goal and were recognized in a ceremony at Harford Community College with 48 other recipients of the graduate equivalency diploma.

"It meant so much to me to finish," says Mrs. Joslin, a grandmother who lives in Havre de Grace.

Coincidentally, she and Mr. Cochran dropped out of high school in the same year, 1943, he from Bel Air High School and she from Eastern High.

The war was on, jobs were easy to find, and the money was good.

As the years passed, however, both regretted the lack of a diploma.

"I was reluctant to let people know I didn't graduate," says Mrs. Joslin, who didn't even tell her two children until they were in high school. "I felt self-conscious."

"I had a very good life," says Mr. Cochran, a Fallston farmer and father of eight children. "But something was lacking."

An invitation to a high school reunion last year was just the prod he needed to start thinking again about the certificate.

"I didn't want to go [to the reunion] because I hadn't graduated," he says, with a note of wistfulness.

Then another event made the GED classes become a reality. His son, who was in the Peace Corps, returned home with a bride from Nepal -- who didn't speak English.

She signed up for basic education classes at HCC, and Mr. Cochran enrolled in the high school equivalency course.

"I wouldn't have her go alone," the protective father-in-law says. The decision was a turning point.

Not only did Mr. Cochran, who is semiretired as a farm caretaker, become reacquainted with algebra and poetry, but he passed the GED exam -- with honors.

He is a member of the 300+ club, a statewide organization for the 10 percent of students who achieve that score or above on the test, and he also was one of eight statewide recipients of a Maryland Adult Community and Continuing Education award for outstanding lifelong learners.

"He was an inspiration to others," says Judy A. Conway, coordinator of literacy education at Harford Community College and overseer of its GED program.

The GED is a national program that was established 50 years ago to give dropouts an opportunity to document high-school-level knowledge.

According to the most recent figures available, 5,396 passed the GED in Maryland in 1993, half of the 10,851 who took the test. Of the candidates, 55 percent were under 25 years of age.

"I know I was the oldest," says Mrs. Joslin, referring to the students in her GED preparation class at Aberdeen High School. "I could have been a grandmother to most of them."

That didn't stop her, though. Twice a week, she went to class. She studied every afternoon.

"I had to prove to myself I could pass," says the homemaker, who worked as an accounting clerk for a few years after dropping out of school.

On the day of the test in February, Mrs. Joslin was ready, but the weather wasn't. The 7 1/2 -hour exam was postponed because of icy road conditions.

"Then I had two more weeks to fret," she says.

She finally took the five-part test that covers writing skills, math, science, literature and the arts, and social studies. Then the wait for the results began.

"I was nervous," she says, remembering the day the envelope arrived in the mail.

L Soon she was laughing and crying at the same time, she says.

"I finally had it [the certificate] in my hands."

Mrs. Joslin passed the GED with a 298, just short of qualifying for the 300+ club. A 225 score is required to pass.

She said it was a thrill to finally walk down the aisle to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" last week at the HCC ceremony.

It was also a moving experience for guests, who listened to Mrs. Joslin talk to the group as a student speaker.

Mrs. Joslin isn't sure what her next goal will be, but she says she'll have one. After all, this is a woman who decided to take tap dancing lessons a few years ago because she didn't have that opportunity when she was a child.

As for Mr. Cochran, he's headed back to school in the fall to take finance courses at HCC, he says.

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