82-year-old woman earns diploma from local high school

By CHRISTINA COOKE

Chattanooga Times Free Press, Aug. 27, 2005

Kathy Berger gave up on her high school education during her senior year at Tyner High after her English teacher threw 16 of her book reports in the trash because they were late.

The year was 1940, and Ms. Berger had been so busy planting sweet potatoes and corn on the family farm that she hadn’t been able to complete her assignments on time.

Last week the Rockledge, Fla., resident, now 82, received a diploma from Tyner High, delivered personally to her house by principal Carol Goss.

“I felt I could walk a little straighter and hold my head a little higher,” Ms. Berger said. “I felt I had been fulfilled.”

Since leaving high school, Ms. Berger has married and raised a family of five. She has worked as a typist, a licensed practical nurse and a paste-up artist at several newspapers, and she has lived in Ohio and Florida. But she always has regretted letting a sour encounter with an English teacher stand in the way of a diploma.

“It’s something that kept eating at me, that I walked away from (the diploma),” she said. “I was so upset (at the teacher); I let anger destroy something that could have carried me through life.”

Last year, Ms. Berger decided to fix the situation. She contacted Tyner High about completing the coursework required to graduate.

Ms. Goss determined Ms. Berger lacked only one English credit and made an offer: if Ms. Berger read a book and turned in an analysis, Ms. Goss would consider awarding her a diploma.

Ms. Berger checked out a large-print copy of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” from the public library, and she struggled through its pages.

“She called me a couple of times and said, ‘This book is so boring,’” Ms. Goss remembered.

Nevertheless, the 82-year-old produced a two-page report that Ms. Goss found acceptable.

During her fall break trip to Daytona Beach last week, Ms. Goss visited Ms. Berger at her Florida home and presented her with the diploma. “Tears came to her eyes,”

Ms. Goss said. “It was a celebration.”

Rockledge resident Arthur Lucas, 47, was present for the occasion. He met Ms. Berger 12 years ago through church and said he’s not surprised at his friend’s conviction.

“She’s one that when she makes up her mind to do something, she gets it done,” he said.

Ms. Berger said she hopes her experience can serve as a lesson to students on the verge of dropping out. “I see so many young people nowadays that do not have their education completed, and it bothers me,” she said. “Maybe (my story) will help influence someone else.”

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