Adult Learners Share Stories of Personal Triumph

The inspiration for Alma Miller to obtain her GED started with a simple statement from her youngest son: “Mom I challenge you to finish your GED.”

Attaining the GED would be no easy feat for this mother of four who dropped out of school when she was sixteen. Fortunately for Alma, her children stepped up and volunteered to tutor her in preparation for the exam.

Today, Alma Miller is a proud GED  recipient but most importantly, she’s an inspiration to her children, just as much as they are an inspiration to her.

Miller is one of eleven adult learners who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier at the Department of Education (ED) to share their stories and make recommendations on how ED can improve services offered to adult learners.

Dann-Messier acknowledged that these adults face many barriers to success in the labor market. Some of the barriers she cited were: a lack of a high school diploma, no postsecondary degree or training, and an inability to speak, read, and write English well.

Each of the adult learners at our recent meeting displayed a tremendous amount of courage in order to overcome the odds associated with returning to school as adults, but what is more laudable is the strength they found in their families and in support organizations.

“I was an honor roll student in high school, but I just kind of lost my way,” said Shamika Hall, the state vice-president for the Delaware Career Association.

Hall lost her sister to an act of senseless gun violence, a devastating tragedy that altered her life’s course. She credits her family and the James H. Grove Adult High School in Wilmington, Del., for helping her get back on track. Watch Hall tell her story below:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan said that he was inspired by each of the adult learners resilience and tenacity. “It’s pretty remarkable to hear not just where you’ve been but how far you’ve come, and most importantly, where each of you are going,” he said.

Before the meeting concluded, Reuben Holguin, an ex-gang member and convicted felon, showed Secretary Duncan his inmate ID. He said that even though he acquired his GED, completed college courses and changed his life around, he will always carry his inmate ID with him to remind him just how far he’s come.

The adult learners who stopped by ED were in town to attend VALUEUSA’s National Adult Learner Leadership Institute, and Dann-Messier thanked VALUEUSA, the only national literacy organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners for helping to organize the meeting with Secretary Duncan.

This fall, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will release the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The goal of PIAAC is to assess and compare the basic skills and the broad range of competencies of adults ages 16-65 around the world. PIAAC covers 23 countries, including the United States. OECD will also release a country report specific to the U.S. to accompany the data release. The report will identify policy implications for improving the skills of adults in the U.S.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach


  1. Getting a high school diploma or a GED is nearly indispensible with todays market. Most jobs want a college degree but they definitely don’t even give you the time of day if you haven’t achieved a high school degree because they assume you don’t know how to do the job even if you do. Because of this I think a lot more adults are going back to school and getting that GED. It’s just one little piece of paper but it’s also more than that. For a lot of people that little piece of paper signifies a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice. It’s one thing to get a high school diploma when you’re 18 just like everyone else but going back to do it when you’re older takes courage and hard work.

  2. I am a 56 year old disabled ex lady trucker with the help of Financial Aid and Voc. Rehab. I was able to complete my undergrad degree in Social Science. Now I am working on my Master’s in Nonprofit Management so that I can help nonprofits help others like me.

  3. It is hard for students to tell their stories. These students had the courage to come from all over the country, some had never even been on a plane before. They told their stories to major decision makers. Now they will go home and continue to tell their stories to their community leaders and other students just like them. I wish that we all had the courage to tell our stories and the things that have held us back in life like these students have done. Adult Students are amazing!

  4. We are never too old to learn. Adult learners encouraged by their children are elevated by feeling of accomplishment and contribute the new resources to the economic and social movement that is ongoing now.

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