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Never too old to go back to school

71-year-old earns GED

POSTED: December 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Photo/Michele Hester/

Ernest McGill dropped out of high school to join the military. He received his GED last month.

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Ernest McGill admits he’s missed out over the last five decades.


“If I would have had my GED, I could have done so much more,” the 71-year-old Dawson County resident said last week, just days after learning he had earned his General Education Development Tests diploma.


McGill, who has lived in the county for more than 40 years, dropped out of school two years before graduation to join the military.


“You could go into the Air Force back then without a diploma. You can’t do that now,” he said.


McGill said he later could have worked for large employers like Lockheed or Georgia Power. Without a diploma, though, he instead learned to drive a tractor-trailer, which he continues to do.


“I always wanted to go back to school, but it just didn’t work out for me,” he said.

Inspired by his two grandsons, who took GED classes at the Dawson County Adult Learning Center, McGill enrolled and completed the courses he needed in less than three months.


Along the way, he battled difficulties in math.


“The teachers and volunteers at the center have been so good to me,” he said. “They all go out on a limb for us.


“I couldn’t have done this without them. I just couldn’t have made it without their support.”


Katie Abraham, a volunteer math tutor at the center, said it was McGill who goes above and beyond.


“He didn’t want to just learn it to take the tests, he wants to understand it,” she said.


Adult Learning Center Director Kathy Davis described McGill as an inspiration, not only for other older adults interested in obtaining their GEDs, but for young people wanting to better their lives.


“There are as many reasons for returning to school, after five years or 50, as there are students,” she said.


“If someone ever thinks a person is too old to learn, then by extension they would also have to think that a person is too young to learn, and we all know that is just not true.


“Learning begins at birth and should never stop.”


With a diploma in hand, McGill is looking into college.


“I want to study nutrition and help others,” he said.


He also encouraged any considering a GED to go for it.


“Even if you don’t think you can make it, they’ll help you in any way they can to see fit that you do,” he said.


E-mail Michele Hester at


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