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Santino Vasquez (right) was congratulated by his father, Steven, after the graduation ceremony. Santino will attend the University of St. Thomas this fall and play hockey. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

A second chance at a diploma

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A second chance at a diploma
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

A week before graduating from the District 833 Diploma Center, Erika Bailey said she feels as if her life is just beginning.

Bailey didn't get a diploma when her class at Park High School graduated in 2008, but she's got one now.


"I'm going to get out there now, and see what's in the rest of the world," she said. "I'm very excited."

Bailey was among the School District 833 Diploma Center graduates at a ceremony held June 15, at the District Program Center.

Park and Woodbury high schools were equally represented among the 28 students who didn't want a GED diploma. Instead, they sought diplomas like the ones they would have received if they had stayed in high school.

Bailey is taking CPR and first-aid classes. She is seeking a license for piercing and intends to own her own tattoo and piercing business.

The center, under Community Education Director Ernie Pines, offers students who quit high school a chance to return. In small groups, online, in classes and under counselor supervision, students get an actual diploma, which the graduates say is important.

Bailey sought her diploma because it "looks better on job applications," she said. Others went to the center for the same reason.

Jessica Wisdorf attended Park, had a hard time making friends, and needed about a year's credits to graduate. She went to the center because she hopes to enroll at Century College to get a degree in nursing.

Santino Vasquez attended five high schools. He wasn't interested in academics. All he wanted to do was to be a hockey goalie and be good enough to play professionally.

Eventually he realized he couldn't achieve his dream without a high school diploma that would lead to college.

Vasquez also realized that more than talent is needed to get to the National Hockey League. "It's a little more than a challenge, if you want to make it a career," he said.

He'll enter the University of St. Thomas this fall and play on the hockey team.

Warren Stone, at 65 years old, no longer wanted to evade questions from his grandchildren about high school. He didn't want a GED, but an actual diploma. The diploma center was a good opportunity to set things right, he said.

"Besides that, I enjoyed it," he said in an interview at the home he shares with his wife, Sharon, in Woodbury. "I like to learn things. I found I liked Shakespeare and enjoyed finding out about World War II, the Civil War and European history."

The couple quit high school, married and Warren joined the Navy.

As a retired tool and die maker, he had time to think about getting a diploma as Sharon did when she returned to school in her 30s.

"I stay active," he said, "and I'm exploring college. I'm thinking about electrical or mechanical engineering."

Other graduates included: Paige Evgen, Abby Germain, Callie Goodier, Casey Goodro, Alexander Hague, Cory Hanson, Amanda Hartl, Christopher Kuhnley, Emerita Martinez, Jeri Lynn Mickelson, Brach Motzko, Michael Murphy, Tyler Norbury, Maxwell Slotsve, Christopher Truman, Kimberly Van Horn, Matthew Van Kirk, Carol Weller, Robert Wofford, Missy Wood and Ge Yang.

Maurice LeBreck, one of the diploma center founders, was guest speaker. "We are like a family here," he told graduates.

Vasquez, Bailey and Wisdorf were awarded $500 scholarships from the Community Education Lifelong Learning Foundation.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600