Shine a Light: Never Too Late for Education

Clark Howard, 46, couldn’t wait on the United States Postal Service. This was just too important. He gassed up his car and headed to Baton Rouge to pick up an important piece of paper. It symbolized his perseverance, hard work and determination. It was tangible proof that he’d finally earned his General Educational Development, or GED.

“I was so excited,” he says. “I just wanted to hold the certificate in my hand. I wanted to show it to everyone. The minute I heard I’d passed a put it up on Facebook. I told everyone I knew.”

Howard is a senior maintenance technician with the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. He’s been with the organization for 29 years, but for a variety of reasons – a mix-up in paperwork, scheduling, family pressures and other obligations and complications – he just never got around to successfully completing his GED.

“I knew I needed it,” he says. “I needed it for my job. They were getting ready to demote me because I didn’t have it. I needed it to show my children. I just needed it for myself.”

When he was younger and should have been working toward his high school diploma, he admits he simply didn’t have time for school.

“I was doing all the wrong things and got into some trouble,” he says.

After struggling with his bad decisions, an opportunity with Job Corps turned his life around. 

And though he tried several times to get his GED, he was never focused enough to succeed.

The 2000 U.S. Census indicates that 18 percent of the U.S. adult population lacks a high school diploma, and only one out of every 100 of these attempted and passed the GED test. 

“I knew I couldn’t give up,” he says.

Finally things clicked. Earlier this year he went to New Orleans Providing Literacy to All Youth, or NOPLAY, which provides GED and basic literacy instruction, and he started making things happen.

Damien Muse, his instructor at NOPLAY, was impressed by Howard’s dedication.

“He was so very genuine,” Muse says. “He was unique due to his age, and he was so determined and focused. He was so happy to achieve this after all these years. It was great working with him.”

To pass the GED, a candidate must complete a set of five tests covering math, science, reading, writing and social studies.  The tests measure communication, information-processing, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. Howard took the seven-and-a-half hour test at Dillard University.

“Overall I was pretty anxious at the beginning, but then I got comfortable and stayed focused,” he says. “I knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do, and I did it.”

Since 1942 an estimated 16.4 million adults worldwide have taken, passed and earned their credentials.

“You’ve got to have an education to do anything,” Howard says. “That’s what I always told my children.”

And now he has the certificate proclaiming his education in hand for all the world to see.

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