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Students graduate at District 833 Diploma Center

Sean Fitzpatrick after recovering from injuries received in a car accident, finished his credits from East Ridge High School to graduate from the Diploma Center. He also earned a $1,500 scholarship from the Community Education Lifelong Learning Foundation.

Not only was it a long recovery from a horrendous car crash caused by a drunken driver in the fall of 2010, but Sean Fitzpatrick missed most of his senior year at East Ridge High School.

Though his body had healed, he remained unmotivated, even after his buddies graduated, in part because school "had not been my favorite thing."

But earlier this year, Fitzpatrick, of Woodbury, pulled himself together and enrolled in the Diploma Center and finished his credits in record time at the rate of one a week, according to Principal Jim Stucco.

Fitzpatrick was among the students who participated in the Diploma Center graduation held last week at the School District 833 Program Center in Cottage Grove. The center, which graduated a record 32 students this year, is for people of any age who didn't graduate from high school but want to complete their missing credits and earn an actual diploma as opposed to a GED diploma.

"I got tired of doing nothing and going nowhere," Fitzpatrick said in an interview. "I was 18 going on 19 and hadn't graduated."

In addition to a diploma, he was awarded a $1,500 scholarship from the Community Education Lifelong Learning Foundation and intends to use it to attend culinary school. His teachers said he's determined and a hard worker.

Center teachers are very understanding and helpful, Fitzpatrick said.

Curtis Houseman, 27, who also graduated, echoes the sentiment about the caring and supportive teachers who helped him finish the 10 credits he needed.

Houseman, who found the Diploma Center online, left his high school, in another district, because he was bullied nearly every day.

"I'm a hard worker," he said. "I didn't want a GED and have to throw the credits I earned out the window. The teachers are phenomenal and I've learned so much."

Houseman, who also received a $1,500 scholarship, plans to start college immediately and hopes to eventually get a job in law enforcement.

In writing her scholarship recommendation, English teacher Marsha Swails said Houseman has a broad intellect, is open and caring and has high personal goals.

Rheta Larson, 33, who works as a technology trainer in Texas, came back to Minnesota to earn her diploma. Teachers are very dedicated, she said.

"A GED wasn't good enough," she said. "Besides, I promised my dad I'd get a diploma."

Stucco, who told graduates to continue to strive and "dream dreams," said he admires President John F. Kennedy who faced challenges like the ones that graduates had, and overcame them.

Among the 32 graduates, he said, are three people who are now serving in the armed forces and others who are already away attending college.

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.
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