I was born and raised in South Memphis. I dropped out of school after eighth grade. Last summer I earned my high school diploma at 30 years old. This is my story.
I’d failed the eighth grade twice already.
I was rebelling against my childhood. I had been sexually assaulted by someone I thought of as a father figure and was holding so much anger that I could not focus.
When I got to Amaceo Walker Middle, I was 17 and still in the 8th grade.
I finally passed to the ninth and was supposed to enroll at Hillcrest High School, but I didn’t. I was hanging with the wrong crowd, stopped going to school, and started working.
I was always working minimum wage jobs because I didn’t have my diploma. It started with Captain D’s. I was there for a couple of months before we got robbed at gunpoint. I quit that day.
I went to work at Burlington Coat Factory and enrolled at Messick Adult Center, where you can earn your G.E.D, but didn't finish the program. I was focused on making money and paying bills.
At 20 years old, I had my son. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted my high school diploma, but I couldn’t find the right time. I was worried about how I would live on less money. School requires a lot of time, and I knew I would have to cut my hours at work.
So I worked and worked, knowing that I wanted more in life. I felt like I was settling. I wasn’t happy at any of the jobs I worked, especially FedEx. I worked at the FedEx hub for 6 years. Some nights I would go in with headaches. I would say, “Lord, please bless me with something better.
"Excel had a drive-through diploma pick up for us on June 11. I cried that entire morning. I couldn’t believe that at the age of 30, I achieved my goal of getting my high school diploma." —Marquetta Wilson
I was making $18 an hour at FedEx working part time at 30 hours a week. I brought home $500 after taxes if I was on time every shift and didn’t miss a day.
I had just turned 27 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I knew then I had to come up with a better plan quick.
Even though my daughter’s dad and I are still together, I had to consider what I would do if we weren’t. My grandmother always told me to have a backup plan because a man is not guaranteed. I kept that in the back of my head after she died.
I was working at Family Dollar. I lost my job after I gave birth. They accused me of stealing $3 for a drink and chips. I went back to FedEx.
God was trying to tell me it was time to get on the right track, but I kept ignoring the signs he was sending. God has a way of showing you that he needs you on the path he planned for you. I think my sign was FedEx. I was just so tired of working there.
Then I learned about the Goodwill Excel Center
and their adult diploma program. I looked into it and learned it was free.
I thought, “No way. A second chance to get my diploma and it’s free? This is my opportunity to get what is for me.”
I enrolled with zero high school credits.Marquetta Wilson recently earned her high school diploma at 30 years old through the Goodwill Excel Center's adult learning program. She said the birth of her daughter was the final push she needed. She graduated June 2020 and is now enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College as a criminal justice major. (Ziggy Mack)
I had a vision when I enrolled. I would get my high school diploma and become a respiratory therapist. I started with four classes with a graduation date of December 2020. The second term I took five classes, which pushed my graduation date up to June.
When COVID-19 came to Memphis in March, Excel had to close in-person classes. I got a little discouraged, but I kept my faith and stuck it out. COVID also put RT’s on the front line of the virus, so I changed my major to criminal justice.
I plan on becoming a police officer after I graduate college.
I remember when I got the phone call from my Excel life coach telling me I had finished high school. I screamed in her ear. I kept saying, “COVID can’t stop what God has planned for me!"
Excel had a drive-through diploma pickup for us on June 11. I cried that entire morning. I couldn’t believe that at the age of 30, I achieved my goal of getting my high school diploma.
I had people who doubted me, but I didn’t let that stop me. I had so many supporters that reminded me daily that my age is just a number and I could make it anything I wanted.
In my senior seminar, I learned how to build a resume and cover letter and how to interview. I built my short-term and long-term goals. During the final exam, I had to answer questions as if I were in an interview. It helped me get the job I have today.
It’s a better job and a better paying job. I’ve gotten a promotion and a bonus for moving up.
I also got the chance to earn credits at Southwest Tennessee Community College through Excel’s dual enrollment program.
I officially enrolled at SWTCC in August with three credits and a 4.0 GPA. I am part of the national honor and leadership society now.
I recommend that anyone who wants their diploma attend Excel. I tell them to go back to school. It’s not too late. It’s free. Get it while you can. They will help you find a job and enroll in college. I know what they’re thinking, especially the single parents, but they have a drop-in center for the kids whose parents attend their classes.
There is no excuse.