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Forced to Quit School at 12, 96-Year-Old Gets High School Diploma

"She sends an inspiration to everyone young and old," one education official said

Leona L. Paulus was forced to quit school at age 12 to help out on the family farm.

That was 84 years ago. For those many long years, she wanted a diploma. She recalls one day feeding chickens when a school bus drove by.

"I was out there crying 'cause I wanted to go on that bus so bad," Paulus said. 

But the story has a happy ending: The 96-year-old earned her high school proficiency diploma on June 13, 2017, after taking exams offered by HiSet, a program through the Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

Paulus took the tests the old-fashioned way: paper and pencil. She also earned top scores on her first try.

The graduation for Paulus, a grandmother of 12, was Aug. 1. She wore a cap and gown and walked to graduation music.

Paulus received a letter of congratulations from President Donald Trump and a special surprise: Her son came up from Texas to watch her graduate. 

The diploma was awarded Aug. 1 at Elmer Grange Hall in Elmer, New Jersey, by HiSet and the New Jersey Department of Education.

"She sends an inspiration to everyone young and old. If you have a dream and you believe in it, you will succeed," said Ken Figgs of the New Jersey Department of Education.

Paulus said she wants to be an inspiration to young people.

"Stay and do it. Get all the education you can. That's what you need," she said.

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