Mom hopes her diploma spurs son back to school

Published February 1, 2007

DADE CITY - Julie Carden was eating breakfast with her husband and friends at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas when she got the call: She had passed the GED exam.

"When they told me, I was like, 'What do I want to be when I grow up?'" said Carden, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mother of two. "I think just the feeling of knowing I can go to college is pretty cool."

She hopes her graduation - the ceremonies for about 300 Pasco adults are tonight - will inspire her 19-year-old son, Wayne, to finish high school. He recently dropped out, having struggled since fifth grade.

"I'm really trying to push him," said Carden, who lives on seven acres north of Zephyrhills. "I told him, 'You and your dad go take the test together.'"

Her husband, Scott, who owns a construction firm in Seffner, never completed high school either. Now he and some of his employees are talking about taking the General Educational Development test, too.

Stories like Carden's breed future successes, said Sandra Vogel, a guidance counselor at Moore-Mickens Education Center. Her office recently started going into the community to "recruit" people who might benefit from additional schooling.

"Certainly there's plenty of practical reasons to have it," Vogel said, noting that getting a job without a high school diploma or its equivalent grows more difficult each day. "People eventually realize that. That's when they come back to get their GED."

That certainly was on Carden's mind when she first entered Moore-Mickens about a year ago. She had worked some jobs as an administrative assistant but wanted more. If something should happen requiring her to get a job, Carden knew her options would be limited.

Finishing school wasn't her priority back in the 1980s, though. She had too many "family issues."

After living with her grandparents for 12 years, she moved from Tampa to New Jersey to live with her mom, who she said was an alcoholic. She also went from having no other kids in the house to several. At 15, she dropped out of high school: "I just kind of hung out and did what teenagers do," Carden said.

Two years later, she bought a plane ticket for Florida and never looked back. Then life took hold. She got pregnant, had a son, got married, had a daughter. She took courses in secretarial work, but she never finished high school.

In part, Carden said, it just didn't matter. She was taking care of her daughter, Sarah, now a sixth-grader at Centennial Middle School, and her husband, Scott, ran a successful business. Then her missing diploma just started to linger, so she decided to go for the GED .

She took the test and scored pretty well, except for the math. So Carden enrolled in math classes at Moore-Mickens to beat back those demons.

"I was horrible in math. That was my absolute worst subject of all time. I still have trouble with multiplication," she said. "I was just very diligent with it because I knew I wanted to do it."

Now, Carden is contemplating an associate's degree if for no other reason than to say she accomplished that too. Or "just maybe," she added, "to inspire my son."

Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614.

If you go

They passed!

The adult education graduation for central and east Pasco is at 7 tonight at Wesley Chapel High School, 30651 Wells Road. The ceremony for west Pasco is at 7 tonight at the River Ridge High School performing arts center, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey.