Friday was graduation day for some D.C.-area high school students, but these weren’t your typical seniors. They are all adults who took advantage of a free high school program designed to help older students earn their diplomas. The oldest new graduates are two women in their 60s.

While it looked like a typical graduation with all the pomp and circumstance, caps and gowns, family, friends, and distinguished faculty, Friday’s high school graduation at Lisner Auditorium was very different. There were no teenagers walking the stage.

“There are two of our students who are 20 years old, and there are two of our students who are over 60 years old,”

Catherine Meloy, the CEO of Goodwill of Greater Washington, said.

The 35 graduates are all adults, most with jobs, and many are parents and even grandparents. One new grad, Crystalon Maddox, has 15 grandchildren.

“One day [I was] sitting with my grandson Caesar, and he said, ‘Grandma, did you finish school?’ I never want to say to my grandchildren I didn’t finish school,” Maddox said.

While Maddox went back to school for her family, 67-year-old Rene Carroll, a retired bus driver, did it for another reason.

“You’re never too old to learn,” she said. “It’s never too late. Do it for yourself.”

Both women attended classes at the Goodwill Excel Center in D.C.

“It was difficult, joyous, fun, great classmates,” Carroll said. “The young people really walked me throughout. I’m proud to be a part of that group.”

“I’m so excited,” Maddox said. “It’s like it’s not real, but it is real and it’s here.”

The Goodwill Excel Center is the only high school in the District for adults that awards diplomas and certifications, and it’s free.

“Hundred percent free,” Dr. Chelsea Kirk, the school’s director, said. “You have to join us. We also have a child care center that’s run by the YMCA. We provide Metro stipends for all of our students and also try to identify what other barriers they have so we can identify what next steps are needed.”

For Maddox, Carroll and their classmates, their graduation was a dream well earned.

“Don’t ever give up,” Maddox said. “It doesn’t matter what’s said, what’s done. Never give up, because it’s never too late.”

“And it doesn’t matter how long it takes you,” Carroll said. “As long as you have the drive, their doors are open for you. It’s free, y’all. Come and get your education.”

Since it opened in 2016, the Goodwill Excel Center has graduated more than 500 adults and has more than 300 current students. The oldest graduate they’ve had was 72 years old.


Goodwill Excel Center graduation
Image courtesy of the Goodwill Excel Center in Washington, DC.