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June 7, 2014

Local resident proves ‘you’re never too old’

TIFTON — "Anything is possible," says 49-year-old Mary Jean Johnson, who recently earned her high school diploma from the American Academy of Pinecrest in Florida.

At 16 years old, Johnson says she dropped out of school to look after her mother who was sick all of the time.

"So, I just went ahead and did it. But, I never regretted it though. I said I was going to always go back and get it. It just took me a while, but I finally got it," she said, chuckling.

Johnson said she went back to school to get her diploma because she had wanted to finish it for years, but finances got in the way.

"Every time I would start, my finances would come short, so I had to stop doing it for a little while," she said.

At first, she was going to Moultrie Technical College in Tifton, but with her being a mother and working, she found that it wasn't for her due to convenience. She decided to go another route and found a number in the want ads for the American Academy of Pinecrest. She called them and found that it wasn't very expensive. She noted School Nutrition of Georgia gave her a grant to finish paying for school.

When she finally held her diploma in her hands, Johnson says she was happy she had finally done it. She called and texted people to let them know. She didn't tell many folks about going back to school to get her diploma.

"I worked hard on that," she said, as she held her diploma in her hands while at The Tifton Gazette office during an interview. She received it about two weeks ago in the mail.

She said she worked on getting her diploma last summer. Her lessons were mailed to her, and every time she would complete and pass a lesson, she would receive a certificate. Her final certificate states she completed all subjects — social studies, science, literature and math.

Since she was out of school for so long, Johnson said she took her time and some of what she had learned in school came right back to her. The hardest subject for her was math and her favorite was science. She said a teacher she knows helped her with her math.

Johnson, who grew up in household with six other siblings, said one of her brothers always teased her by saying she was never going to finish school, because she kept putting it off. However, she never gave up and knew that she would eventually do it. She said when she first got her diploma, her brother said, "It's about time you got it." Johnson said her family is proud of her, including her 16-year-old son, Joshua Sutton.

To those who have dropped out of school for whatever reason, her advice is: "Never give up on your dreams. Anything is possible. It took me a while, but I got mine." To those who are in school and may be contemplating dropping out, her advice is: "Don't do it. Keep pushing on. It might take you a while, but do your best. You can get someone to help you with it, just like I did."

Johnson has been working in the cafeteria at Eighth Street Middle School for about nine years. She said she teases with the students, but most importantly, she tells them to never give up. For many, she's their favorite lunch lady.

Johnson, smiling, said she's proud of herself. When asked what she did to celebrate her achievement, she said she hasn't done anything yet, but ESMS teacher Gene Fandel and his wife surprised her by getting her a cake and flowers.

"I didn't even know they were going to do it," she said with a big grin across her face.

As far as college, Johnson says she's considering it.

"You're never too old," she said.

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