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Never Too Old to Learn

After 18 months of hard work and a little help from the staff of the Student Success Center at the Rice Lake campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, Alice Smith earned her GED. From Left, Alice Smith, seated, Anne Freagon, Basic Skills Instructor; Standing, Donna Stelter, Basic Skills Instructor; Todd Solberg, Dean of Students.

At a time when there are dire reports of the number of high school students dropping out of school, 80-year-old Alice Smith decided it was time to pursue her General Educational Development (GED). And, she says, when others her age are getting a “little confused upstairs,” she saw it as a way to keep her mind sharp.

Many years ago, Alice had to drop out of school at the age of 16 to help her dad on their Rice Lake farm when her two brothers reported to the army during WWII.

Then came a full, busy life including marriage, 8 kids, 19 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren. Since her husband, Harry, passed away a few years ago, she has filled her days going to the Rice Lake Senior Center, church services, TOPS and bingo, as well as spending time with her family. But in the back of her mind, she never gave up the idea of that high school diploma.

In September 2007, she started working with the staff of the Student Success Center at the Rice Lake campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. With the help of Karen Lutz, Anne Hanson, Donna Stelter, Deb Helquist and Robert Jasper, she improved her skills in reading and writing, studied science and social studies, and learned algebra and geometry. Gradually, she studied a subject, took a test, passed it and moved on to the next subject. Then in March she took the last – and hardest – math test.

Alice had become quite a favorite of the LRC staff, so the day after the test when they found out her passing score, Karen and Ann decided to surprise Alice with the good news at her apartment. When she saw them coming with flowers and a big balloon, she knew she had scored, and raised her fists excitedly in the air, yelling “Whoooo! Whooo!” Alice had challenged herself, and after 18 months of hard work, she had earned her GED.

Her family, who at first had kidded her when she started her quest for a diploma, are now proud of her and saying, “Good for you, grandma!”  Alice says her family is the most important thing in her life, but WITC has become important to her too.

“I’m a part of this place. It’s a whole new world when I come here, a learning world,” she says.

Alice’s immediate plans to celebrate her accomplishment are a trip to Madison to spend a week with her daughter, Gloria, which will include eating out and shopping – her favorite pastime. She’s looking forward to receiving her diploma on graduation night in May, and maybe going dancing afterward. But in the future, Alice is thinking she would like to improve her computer skills, and maybe even audit a psychology class. There’s nothing to stop her.