Forty-five-year-old Weldon R. Johnson waited for the moment to walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma after dropping out of school 27 years ago.
On June 15, he received his GED certificate along with 73 other graduates at a ceremony held in OCCC’s College Union.
With his wife and 6-year-old daughter in attendance, Johnson reflected on the reasons he dropped out of school so many years ago, which included being the product of a broken home, gang involvement and substance abuse.
“ … I never knew [my biological father], and my stepdad who raised me was a military man, ” Johnson said.
“He was a weekend alcoholic. He would do things while we were growing up — he’d pull a gun out and set it on the table with three shells … ”
Johnson said his prior background and lack of education kept him from being able to get a job.
“I was unemployed,” he said. “I couldn’t get a job due to my past … just being a heathen.”
Johnson said he was prompted to change his life two years ago after an epiphany hit him one morning.
“I was woken out of my sleep by a voice, telling me to write a book, ‘Heaven is Highering,’” Johnson said.
“You have to understand — me writing a book [after] only completing one credit of high school English didn’t sound normal.”
Johnson said after he finished a manuscript of his book he became acquainted with a publisher.
“I told God, ‘I didn’t know how to write a book’ — I didn’t even finish English. Why don’t you get someone else to write it?”
Johnson said his publisher and editor, who later became his wife, urged him to go back to school to obtain his GED.
“You know if I can write a book, I can go back to school,” he said. “I’m at a point in my life now where it’s like, why not? I used to think four years was a long time but now after being a parent and raising children, four years goes by pretty quick.”
Johnson started adult basic education classes at OCCC in September.
“I passed everything with flying colors except math,” he said. “English was my worst subject in high school, yet English was the best grade I got.”
The cost of obtaining a GED
Currently OCCC serves 3,000 students in 18 different locations across the metro area, including the newly renovated Capitol Hill Center and the Family and Community Education Center, making them the largest service provider for basic adult education in Oklahoma.
In an email interview, Community Outreach and Education Director Jessica Martinez-Brooks said Oklahoma is not providing matching funding for basic adult education in the upcoming fiscal year.
“We teach adults basic literacy skills so they can effectively communicate with their child’s doctor, teacher, and their employers,” she said. “We are creating better workers, better parents, better citizens.”
However, she said, the program’s growth must be curtailed because of the loss of state funding.
Vice President for Community Development Steven Bloomberg said OCCC receives funding for adult basic education traditionally in two ways.
“We receive money that flows through from the federal government to fund GED. In the past, with the exception of last year, we received money from the state,” he said. “Our federal allocation actually went up because of the size of service center we are. I believe our allocation is about $706,194.”
Bloomberg said OCCC has no plans to cut services for GED. “ … At the same time, without the $205,000, we’re also not expanding to the point we’re like to either.”
Bloomberg said considering the outreach OCCC has with adult basic education, the cuts are alarming.
“You want to make sure you do everything you can do to protect that, because in many instances it’s either us or nothing for a lot of those students.”
Brooks said having a GED is more important than ever due to changes in financial aid. “ … Beginning July 1, students will have to have a high school diploma or GED in order to receive and quality for financial aid.”
Bloomberg said obtaining a GED opens doors for adults seeking to better their lives.
“There’s about 98 percent of companies that will accept the GED if it has a minimum qualification of a high school diploma,” he said.
“Without the GED, that door is not open either.
“I always tell people that it opens doors. Without that step in your life, you cannot get through.
“That’s why it’s so important because it opens doors to so many other things for you as a student, a person, a parent, as a spouse. It’s just so important.
“I just can’t overstate how important it is for somebody to take that step.”
Achieving Your Goals
Adult Basic Education Instructor Susan Bernard said she is inspired as an instructor by her students.
“It is always exhilarating when I get the news that one of my students has passed the GED test,” she said. “I know that I have helped someone change his or her life for the better.”
As for Johnson, he said he plans to start a restaurant directory information business and take a few business courses at OCCC.
“I love the food business. I love preaching and I love helping people,” he said. “I want to feed the people.”
Johnson said his advice is simple to anybody considering dropping out of high school or college.
“Don’t quit. Don’t wait until you’re 45 like I did,” he said.
“Four years is really not that long of a time. If you look back from four years where you are today — look at how much you’ve grown in that period of time.
Your education is for you. It’s not for anybody else,” Johnson said with a huge grin.
For more information about GED classes at OCCC, call 405-686-OCCC (6222).
To contact Joey Stipek, email email@example.com.