It seems to have become a family tradition.
James Valerio Jr. of Glen Burnie will be among 55 people receiving diplomas tonight in a commencement ceremony for graduates of the Anne Arundel County External High School - just a year behind his father and uncle.
Valerio, 20, is among the younger graduates in the Class of 2001. The oldest is 79.
The External High School Diploma Program was begun by the Maryland State Department of Education in 1978 as an alternative to the General Educational Development program. It allows adults to earn a state diploma by demonstrating life skills through a series of written assignments and one-on-one sessions with advisers.
More than 11,200 Maryland adults have received the diploma - most of them years since being in a classroom setting.
Valerio began the External Diploma Program (EDP) about 14 months ago, about the time his father and uncle were finishing it, he said. "They encouraged me to do it, and after seeing them complete it, I knew it was something I had to do."
James Valerio Sr., 42, of Chase entered the program with the hopes that a diploma would enable him to get a better job. After earning the diploma, he obtained a job at Ciena Corp., the Linthicum-based producer of fiber-optics equipment.
"It was the best thing I could have done for myself," the elder Valerio said of earning his diploma.
The program is based on 65 life-skills competencies that all students must demonstrate, as well as an individual competency based on holding a job during their period of participation.
"Our graduates enter the program with basic reading, writing, and math skills, and graduate with the ability to transform them into life skills, such as figuring out payroll deductions or preparing cover letters and resumes," said EDP Director Roni Nudelman.
The younger Valerio said he was also influenced by the recent success of his uncle, Richard Scott, 47, of Glen Burnie. Scott, a quality inspector who says he has worked 29 years for Westinghouse and Northrop Grumman, is now working toward his associate's degree at Catonsville Community College.
Scott, who earned his EDP diploma in six months, said the state program "teaches people about life and emphasizes things you would normally take for granted."
The younger Valerio completed the program while holding a job at Shoreline Seafood market in Crofton. Once he has the diploma in hand, Valerio said, he hopes to build his skills as a welder by attending a trade school.
While many enter EDP in hopes that a high school diploma will open doors to better jobs, some are in it for self-satisfaction. One of those students, Susie Ann Porter, 66, is among the older members of tonight's graduating class.
Porter said she felt a high school diploma was missing from her life. With the encouragement of a friend, she decided to enroll in the program. With graduation hours away, Porter says she feels wonderful and wishes she had gone back for her diploma a long time ago. What will she do with it?
"Why, I'm going to hang it and always look at it," she laughed.
The ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lindale Middle School, 415 Andover Road in Linthicum. For information about the program, call Nudelman at 410-691- 9088.