Pentelope "Penny" Schroer and Felicia Smith did not get a chance to walk across a stage last month as a mom-daughter pair of adult education program graduates in the class of 2019, but they are adamant about walking next year.
"We're going to walk across the stage holding hands," Smith said.
She and her mom, both of the Fulton area, earned their high school equivalency degrees through Jefferson City Public Schools' Adult Education and Literacy Program.
The program, which offers high school equivalency and English Language Acquisition classes, is hosted by the school district and funded by Missouri's K-12 education department.
The program's graduation ceremony for the class of 2019 was to take place at the Etta and Joseph Miller Performing Arts Center on May 23, but the tornado that hit Jefferson City the night before caused the ceremony to be canceled.
Schroer and Smith still celebrated their achievement together that weekend, though.
Smith, 31, said it was important for her to earn a high school degree because she "just wanted to set a good example" for her children.
Schroer, 58, said she wanted "to get rid of the family curse" of not finishing school. She said she dropped out at about the same age Smith did; Smith is her middle child of five.
Smith said she took GED classes 10 years ago but did not get her GED diploma then.
"I really wasn't learning anything," she said. She stopped asking questions in class, and when she failed the exam, she was too embarrassed to retake it.
However, upon meeting and talking with soon-to-be former Mid-MO Adult Learning Center Director Stephany Schler — Bradley Dorris will become the new director starting July 1 — Smith was convinced to try again. High school equivalency programs have replaced GED certificates in Missouri.
Smith called her mom to tell her about it all, and Schroer decided to sign up for the program to help her daughter out by being there with her.
They told people right away in their class on Tuesdays and Thursdays that they were mom and daughter, and Schroer would bring snacks for everyone in attendance.
Smith worked toward having perfect attendance, and she achieved that — as well as being inducted into National Adult Education Honor Society.
By being a National Honor Society member, Smith gets a letter of recommendation for employment and a letter for college financial aid advisers as to why she's qualified for aid, Schler said.
Smith is a stay-at-home mom and said she's considering becoming a fitness trainer or life coach.
Schroer manages rental properties. "You're never too old," she said of earning her high school degree.
"Don't be afraid. Ask questions," Smith said.
She added advice to "push yourself," and "it's got to be what you want."
She said her youngest daughter, Naomi, 3, understood Mom was also going to school.
"She let me use her backpack for school," Smith said, and her daughter got excited and jumped into her arms when she told her she had passed the high school equivalency test.
Smith later added her children — Catrina, 13, and Dominick, 9 — were also happy for her; Dominick "started crying when I told him I passed."
"They were all major help. I couldn't have done it without my family," also including husband Chad, she added.
Class of 2019 graduates will be invited to walk at next year's ceremony, Schler said. Diplomas could be picked up, and all remaining diplomas not picked up before June 7 were to be mailed to graduates, she added.
Smith and Schroer bought matching diploma and tassel holders and said they'll put their graduate photos in a shared frame.
"You have a second chance," Smith said.