I attended a graduation ceremony for a former student earning a HSE Diploma from McDowell Education Center at the age of 52. I did not know that Mark Rominger would also be speaking, and I certainly did not know that he would mention my name and then ask me to stand to be recognized. Afterward, I received permission to use his inspirational speech in an article hoping his story might be beneficial to others.

Below, you will find his words:

"I started out in a little school, Hope Elementary. There, I had some wonderful times and got to meet some great teachers. I always looked up to them because they made school fun, even when several of us picked up and turned Mr. Webster's Saab Sonett sideways in the parking lot. Mr. Webster is here today, and I just want him to know once again that it was not out of disrespect as he fortunately recognized and spared us any disciplinary action that day. Thank you for all your help and understanding years ago and now.

I found football and transferred to Northside where, I am proud to state, we were very successful due to talented individuals collectively coming together as a team. Then, my dad's company transferred him to Texas, and I attended Odessa High School. I continued to play football but always felt like a square peg in a round hole. One day, I was in an altercation which resulted in a gun being pointed in my face. Consequently, I dropped out of school.

I went into the working world where I got a job in an oilfield. It seemed for the longest time that I was doing alright, but I could never climb the career mountain due to my lack of education. It was always the same old story. Without a high school diploma, I just could not get where I wanted to go. I was too ashamed to tell my friends the truth about my education and turned to alcohol which compounded my struggles. Drinking while driving almost took my life!

When I thought my life could not get any worse, it did. In the span of 4 years, I lost my father to lung cancer; my brother and best friend, Jay, tried to hurt himself; my dog of 6 years died; my wife after 17 years of marriage divorced me; and, I lost my business that I had worked so hard to build up.

I needed a change; Jay needed a change; we needed a change; thus, we decided to move back to our roots, the small town of Hope. The people in town made us feel as if we were home again. I knew I could not run from my lack of education any longer. It was time to earn my HSE. Jay got on the internet and found McDowell. Soon, I was a student again!

An instructor, Brandon Macy, motivated me from the very first time we met, even on the days I did not want to be there. He introduced me to a great man, Jim Illig, who provided some important tutoring in math. He could somehow explain even difficult concepts in a fun way and never allowed me to give up. Norma Flodder, my life coach, took us on intriguing field trips, and her infectious smile made me smile inside and out. As a matter of fact, I could go on forever about the entire staff. I will always be indebted to them and extremely grateful!

So, here we are. I finally made it, no more lies. I can hold my head high! A few of you might be wondering why now, so late in life? Well, it was my moment to take time for myself and believe in myself. Often, I helped others and left myself on the back burner. This time, I challenged myself and accomplished a major goal. It is something that no one can take away from me. If you dropped out of high school, then I want you to enroll in a program like McDowell, believe in yourself, work hard, and to keep going. Don't stop! Do it for you! You are worth it!"