‘Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning’
WARREN — During his freshman year at Madison Heights High School, Michael Smith decided academics weren’t for him.
“I didn’t want to go to school,” he said. “I hated school. I always skipped school.”
So he dropped out and went to work.
“Back then, there were plenty of jobs,” Smith, 49, said. “You didn’t need a diploma at that time. I was a jack-of-all-trades.”
Over the years, he “never” once thought about returning to the classroom. That was until a few years ago, when he read an article about a woman in her 70s who went back to school to get her high school diploma. The story inspired him so much that Smith decided it was time to finish his education.
“If she could do it, I could do it, too,” the Warren resident said.
With the push he needed from his wife, Michele, and two children, Smith enrolled in the Van Dyke Public Schools Adult Education program. At first, it was “intimidating.”
“It seems a lot harder being older than when you were younger,” he said. “I’m sorry I made the mistake of not graduating on time. Nowadays, the shops see if you have a diploma.”
Before their teachers, family and friends, Smith and five other students officially graduated from the adult education program during a commencement ceremony held June 12 inside the Lincoln High School auditorium.
“I’m proud to say ‘Look, Mom, I finally made it,” Smith said when addressing the crowd from the podium.
Kristen Hunter, Sabria Sikes, Scott Zdrojewski, Timmothy Dean and Damien Villanueva were the other class of 2013 members who went to school for as long as it took to earn enough credits to graduate.
Classes were held from 6-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the district’s Lincoln Career and Technology Mark A. Kedzior Center. Students needed 20 credits to graduate. There were 12 program staff members, including coordinator Barbara Buckbee and secretary Neelam Bhatt, who always encouraged the students.
The VDPS Board of Education, Superintendent Joseph Pius and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Piper Bognar were present last Wednesday to congratulate the students.
“I see some who may have walked an extra long path to get here. I see some that thought they might never get here,” Bognar said. “You were determined enough to come to class each night. Everyone has traveled their own road to achieving this milestone. Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”
For Dean, 25, dropping out during his senior year at Hazel Park High School seemed like a good idea.
“I traveled with the fair for three years,” he said. “It was fun.”
He found work after returning home but “they started laying people off. I just drifted around from job to job.”
Dean decided to go back to school. Personal finance, reading development and an e2020 algebra class were among classes in his recent workload. Although he said he “kind of argued a bit” with his instructors about doing the work, he persevered.
“The teachers were great,” he said. He hopes to set an example for his four children and six siblings.
“I did it so they don’t give up,” he said.
His plans include attending Oakland Community College and possibly transferring to Michigan State University for pre-law.
“He did it. I’m so proud of you,” teacher Catherine Gillis said of Zdrojewski during a refreshments service after the ceremony, adding, “He is extremely bright.”
Zdrojewski, 49, was a student at LHS in the early 1980s, when he began “going down the wrong path.” He was told to leave home for “being a bad kid,” and after trying to make it on his own, he left the 12th grade to go to work.
“I was not happy to leave school. It hurt a lot to watch everyone else (graduate),” Zdrojewski, of Warren, said. “But life just got overwhelming. I kind of disappeared.”
Zdrojewski, who worked in a pizzeria and also had roofing skills, thought about going back to school “all the time.”
“I felt incomplete,” he said. “In this day and age, education is paramount. I wanted to use my brain.”
And that he did. While Zdrojewski was attending the Mark A. Kedzior Center four nights a week, he was also enrolled at the Macomb Community College Michigan Technical Education Center in Warren.
Wearing a cap and gown was “overwhelming” for the graduate.
“All this emotion is coming back,” he said. “I didn’t think I would ever do it.”
For more information on the Van Dyke Public Schools Adult Education program, call (586) 758-8363 or (586) 758-8364.