“Never give up on your dream”. These are the resolute words of wisdom of Joan Butler Kayser, one of the rare senior citizens in Danbury, Connecticut who has earned her GED diploma. Joan is 84 years old.
Joan had to stop going to high school three months before her graduation. She had to work to support her family’s finances. Her parents brought her into this world and raised her, so she deemed it proper to do so. However, Joan promised her mother that one day, she’s going to earn her degree.
It took time until that came to pass, especially because Joan eventually got married, had five kids and then had 3 grandchildren and soon another 3 great-grandchildren. Seeing graduations, such as that of her grandchildren has made Joan feel that she was missing something. Until the time came when Joan decided to work on a secret project, with her family thinking that it was a mere photo collage or puzzle.
It thus came as an astonishing surprise when 84-year-old Joan announced that she has passed her GED with a 70% or higher rating for all the four subjects. Joan’s daughter, Katheryn Cumming was overjoyed, saying that Joan’s achievement has made her life complete.
Kayser never divulged the fact that she was working on her degree. The only person who knew about it was Carol Thibodeau, her home aid. Carol is a retired teacher who tirelessly researched on how Joan, who happens to have a hearing, visual and mobility difficulties could cope with her test prep and earn her GED diploma. From the months of May until December, Carol administered Joan’s tests on the 4 GED subjects in the latter’s home.
“I haven’t been in a classroom for several decades”, Joan declared. “I doubted that I can pass the tests”, she added. But she was able to surpass the first three tests and made it through the Social Studies test which she considered as her “worst nightmare”.
In December, the great news came when Carol handed a wrapped package to Joan. “I thought it was Carol’s picture with her kids and her dog”, she blurted. But Joan cried when she opened it and saw that it was her GED certificate. “Oh my God. I did it”, she exclaimed with tears of joy in her eyes.
Joan couldn’t believe it was happening. Her daughter Katheryn pronounced that her mother had to wait to finally hold her GED diploma in her hand to make sure of her accomplishment. When Joan’s family knew, they were stunned and beaming with pride at the same time. Everyone fell into tears.
The state of Connecticut does not specifically track the ages of residents who acquire their GED diplomas. But according to statistics, it’s quite rare for senior citizens to aim for this feat. According to the state’s Department of Education, 1,040 people aged 60 and above enrolled in GED, ESL, citizenship, national external diploma, and adult high school credit diploma programs in 2018. The largest age group of this population was those between 25 to 44 years old.
“We’re so proud of Joan and her achievement. She is indeed a role model and an inspiration to others”, Carol Thibodeau said. Of all the 5 siblings, Joan is the sole to have earned a high school diploma. It has made her feel guilty that she hasn’t kept her promise to her mother that she would graduate.
“I wish my mother were here and saw my GED diploma. She has been my inspiration since I was a young girl”, Joan declared.
Always having instilled the value of education to her children, Joan resolved to not let them think that she was a loser.
“I now feel that I have a very good life, and it’s so overwhelming. My family is fantastic, and I had been given every single dream that I wanted and I am very grateful”, Joan gladly uttered.