It's never too late, grads say

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

The cameras were flashing, the audience was standing, and "Pomp and Circumstance" was playing on the tape deck when Angie Woolfolk and Fredrick Flood graduated from Alyeska Central School on Friday.

They even threw their caps in the air afterward. Just what they always wanted to do but never had.

Juneau residents Woolfolk, 33, and Flood, 35, took courses this year through Alyeska, the state correspondence school, to complete their interrupted high school education and earn a diploma.

"I always wanted to walk with my class," Woolfolk said in an interview.

They asked for the graduation ceremony, which was held in a conference room at Goldbelt Place, where Alyeska and the state Department of Education have offices.

Alyeska graduated 68 high school students this past fiscal year, 10 of whom were Juneau residents, school officials said. Only Woolfolk and Flood attended the ceremony.

Woolfolk's mother sent them caps and gowns. Nancy Deutschman, Flood's fiancee and a friend of Woolfolk, made the tassles that hung over their shoulders.

Big day? "It is, after 17 years," Flood said.

Flood, a steward on state ferries, left Juneau-Douglas High School in his senior year, shy one and a half credits for a diploma.

"Personal things that came up when I was growing up," he said in an interview, explaining his dropping out. He watched from the audience as his classmates graduated from JDHS.

Woolfolk, who attended high school in the small town of Tillamook, Ore., said she quit with two weeks left in her senior year after a teacher told her she would fail his government class. She had been interested in the law or psychology.

"Young and stupid," she said about dropping out. "I was a cop's daughter. I was always told what to do. Never wanted to listen."

Woolfolk didn't wrap up that final credit because children and jobs took priority. She now runs a day care center in her home.

"I always wanted my diploma, but I didn't know how to get it years late," she said.

Enter Nancy Deutschman. Deutschman's son Dustin, 17, had returned to Juneau from Oregon and didn't have a high school diploma. She enrolled him at Alyeska - from which he also graduated this year - and realized its program would suit Flood and Woolfolk.

"For the past two years I've been prodding Fred and Angie: 'You guys are so close, you need to get your diploma.' "

It's not unusual for people 19 to 21 to complete their credits at Alyeska, said Rick Currier, a counselor there.

"It's hard to get through high school in four years now," he said. "Boys especially tend to have a bad ninth-grade year, and maybe flunk algebra or get thrown out of social studies. Come senior year they are short (credits) and can't get the courses they need."

But Currier couldn't recall any Alyeska graduates in their mid-30s.

Woolfolk, a single mom, said she was motivated to return to school to set an example for her children, Daniel, 13, and Tony, 8.

"That's the only reason I got my diploma," she said. "I want to make sure they get theirs."

Woolfolk said she enjoyed high school in Tilamook, playing on sports teams and going to dances.

"I want my kids to go through all that. I didn't want my kids to struggle," she said.

Now she'd like to earn an associate's degree in child development, and perhaps study further to become a school psychologist.

Flood said his diploma will make him eligible for training grants. He'd like to work as a deckhand or in the engine room of a state ferry. He's worked at fast-food restaurants, but couldn't get past the assistant-manager stage because he didn't have a high school diploma.

After the ceremony, as a sort of graduating class gift, Woolfolk and Flood gave their caps and gowns to Alyeska so others in the future can use them.

"I hope this will influence a lot of kids - it's never too late," Deutschman said at the ceremony.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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