More than 80 years after she left school to help her mother raise her siblings, a Michigan woman has been awarded her high school diploma.
That’s the sort of feel-good story everybody loves. When 98-year-old Ruth Frezza finally received her diploma, after all, it was in a symbolic ceremony in a nursing home.
And what happened to Ruth in 1936 — the loss of opportunity to earn a diploma after life circumstances pushed her out of high school — is still happening to millions of children each year. In most places in the United States, individuals over the age of 20 cannot return to school to finish their high school diploma — no matter why they left.
That’s despite the fact that, now far more than ever before, a high school diploma is absolutely vital for anyone who reasonably hopes to earn a living wage. That wasn’t the case in 1936.
There are some places where leaders are figuring out how important it is to give a second chance at a diploma for both individuals and their communities. In Ohio and Michigan, for instance, state leaders have launched programs that allow adults to earn their high school diplomas, free of tuition, no matter when or why they left high school. The hundreds upon hundreds of resulting graduations aren’t simply feel-good stories — they are stories of people who had little hope of betting their lives who have been given a path to a better future: a future that changes outcomes for individuals, families, and the communities in which they live.
But programs like these are still few and far between. It’s time to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to earn a high school diploma today and get started on their better tomorrow.