I felt nervous, anxious – like the new kid in school. It was school, of a sort, but not quite school. I took two deep breaths, pasted a smile on my face and opened the door.
I blinked. After the brightness of the outdoor sun, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the interior. It was a small room with chairs and a podium. There were a couple of tables with chairs pushed up to them.
I saw a handful of others, plus a man in a suit. He must be the teacher/instructor, I concluded. He smiled, looked down at the clipboard in his hand before returning his gaze to me. He asked my name and I gave it to him.
“You can take a seat anywhere around the table.” He smiled again before checking my name off his clipboard.
The others were milling around, some talking to each other. I felt oddly out of place. They looked young, some barely more than high school. It had been forever since I’d been in high school.
I was forty years old. I’d dropped out of high school to get married, a dumb thing to do in so many ways. I was now getting my GED. Ironically, I found out I needed it when I attempted to enroll in college classes.
“Everyone be seated,” Mr. Instructor said. “You’ll be doing several pre-tests today. From that we’ll determine what classes you’ll need.”
He began handing out papers and pencils. He smiled again, a detached, weary smile. It made me feel sad for him.
“Take your time, think through your answers. You’ve nothing to lose. When you’re finished, bring your papers to me. Make sure your name is on them. The last thing you’ll do is write a short essay. You can choose between two topics: Why I Love Rural America or Why I Love a Big City.”
He nodded and turned to walk back to a desk in the corner. Before he sat down he said, “One more thing. When you turn your papers in, we’ll set up a time tomorrow for you to come in to go over your results.”
I took a deep breath and started on the first test. The tests on English and Literature were easy, almost too easy. Math and Science caused me to think a little more, but they didn’t seem too difficult.
Writing the short essay was easy. I’d lived my whole life in a big city, so that was my logical choice.
Occasionally I would glance at the clock on the wall. Sometimes someone mumbled or whispered. Cheating? What purpose would that serve? Mr. Instructor’s eyes would sweep over us, but he said nothing.
We took a short break. Mr. Instructor pointed us towards vending machines, so I got a soda. Everyone chatted, some saying how hard the tests were. I nodded, although I didn’t agree.
When the testing resumed, it didn’t take long before I was finished. I glanced around the tables, noticing that everyone was still hunched over their tests.
I shuffled back through my papers, looked over a few questions that I’d been unsure of. I shrugged and said a short prayer before taking them to Mr. Instructor.
“Can I have a late afternoon appointment? I took off work today, but I can’t take off tomorrow,” I whispered.
“Sure,” he replied, giving me that weary smile again.
When I arrived the next day, Mr. Instructor was just finishing with someone else. As the young man was leaving, he called me over.
“Sit down.” He motioned to the chair in front of his desk. “Well,” he said, shuffling through papers. He raised his head and smiled - a genuine smile this time. “You did quite well. I don’t see any need for you to take preparation classes before taking your GED tests. I’m confident you'll pass. So here.” He handed me a sheet of paper with times and locations for testing.
“Thank you.” I stood to leave, returning his smile.
“By the way, I really enjoyed that essay you wrote. You should take some writing classes.” He looked weary again.
Within a week, I took the tests. A few weeks later, some twenty years past the time I would’ve graduated high school, I got my diploma in the mail.
I was humbled, ecstatic, and grateful - wondering if high school graduates were as moved and appreciative as I felt the moment I held that piece of paper in my hand.
* true story
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