In the United States, the maximum age limit for attending high school for free varies from state to state. Typically, it is around 20 or 21 years old, although it can be as low as 19 or as high as 26 in certain states. However, most individuals who are unable to complete high school choose to pursue a GED instead of enrolling in special adult high school programs.
Despite this, there are exceptional cases where individuals have proven that it’s never too late to go back to school. They have attended or are currently attending special high school classes to earn their diplomas, making them the oldest high school students in the world.
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Durga Kami: Learning to Overcome Adversity
Durga Kami’s remarkable story garnered international headlines in 2016 when he decided to attend high school at the age of 68. He had always dreamt of becoming a teacher, but a life of poverty had prevented him from receiving an education. After his wife passed away, Kami mustered the courage to return to school, seeking solace and companionship.
Kami walks three hours each way to attend Shree Kala Bhairab Higher Secondary School. One of the school’s teachers, DR Koirala, reached out to Kami, providing him with a school uniform and supplies. Initially, Kami’s classmates were surprised to see an older man among them, but they quickly grew fond of his presence. In 2016, Great Big Story caught up with Kami, then 69 years old, and filmed a typical school day for him.
Camilla Jean Woodard: Defying the Odds
While many high school dropouts choose to pursue a GED, Camilla Jean Woodard was determined to earn an authentic high school diploma. At the age of 17, she dropped out of high school when she married her husband, despite her in-laws’ wishes for her to finish her education. Woodard believed that helping out on their family farm was the best path for her. Remarkably, her life turned out well, raising three children and later becoming the night shift supervisor at a retirement home.
However, after her husband’s passing in her 70s, Woodard felt a sense of idleness. Being retired, she decided to take classes at Wilson Community College intermittently over six years. Woodard faced challenges along the way and even contemplated quitting after becoming frustrated with one of her teachers. Nevertheless, she persevered, doubling her efforts by taking multiple courses simultaneously. In May 2016, Woodard finally achieved her goal and received her high school diploma.
Joan Deebank: A Lifetime of Determination
According to Canada’s Ministry of Education, Joan Deebank holds the distinction of being the oldest person to graduate from a high school in British Columbia. At the age of 92, she graduated over the summer of 2018. In 2017, Deebank enrolled in the adult education program at Island ConnectEd, a distributed learning school on Vancouver Island. Her curriculum was tailored specifically to her needs, and she completed it in the spring.
Deebank’s unfinished schooling can be attributed to her parents, who prevented her from continuing her education. During her time in school, her mother kept her at home three days a week to assist with household chores and her younger siblings. At the age of 13, her father withdrew her completely from school, forcing her to work while her wages went directly to her parents.
At 16, Deebank enlisted in the British Army to escape her home life. She eventually married a soldier and had children. Although Deebank kept her mind active by reading regularly, she often lamented her lack of formal education. Thanks to the support of her children and Island ConnectEd, Deebank’s lifelong dream was finally realized, and she received a standing ovation at her graduation.
Guadalupe Palacios: Embracing Education at 96
Guadalupe Palacios, a 96-year-old Mexican woman, holds the title of the oldest high school student in the world. Growing up in poverty, she was unable to attend school and remained illiterate for most of her life. However, at the age of 92, Palacios decided to enroll in an adult literacy course, jokingly remarking that she could finally write letters to her boyfriends.
Inspired by her newfound ability to read and write, Palacios continued her education by enrolling in a primary school program for adult learners in 2015. In less than four years, she completed elementary and middle school. Now, she is ready to tackle high school. On her first day, she proudly wore the school’s uniform, a white polo shirt, and a black skirt. The students at High School Number 2 in Tuxtla Gutierrex affectionately call her Dona Lupita and have warmly welcomed her into their midst. Palacios is diligently working towards her goal and hopes to graduate by her 100th birthday in 2022.
These individuals show us that age is not a barrier to education and that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. Their extraordinary journeys serve as an inspiration to us all.
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