Fulfilling a 40-year promise to a now-deceased mom
O.B. Walker took a bit longer than most Centre High School graduates to earn his diploma — 40 years long, to be exact.
Walker, 58, dropped out of school in the 12th grade in Arkansas City.
“My mother had tried to teach me some things at home, but the teachers acted like they didn’t want to teach us anymore,” he said.
Just three of his five siblings graduated from high school.
Walker got married, had seven children, and found a job, most recently a minimum-wage kitchen job at Kansas Star Casino.
“I kept telling my mother I was going back to school,” he said, “but I never did.”
When Walker’s mother died in 2012, he decided he needed to fulfill his promise.
Driving down the road one day, he heard a radio ad about a program that could provide a GED or a high school diploma through online classes.
He tried to remember the phone number but couldn’t. A little while later, he saw a TV commercial about the same online program — Centre’s Kansas Online Learning Program.
The ad listed Vickie Jirak as a contact person. He called, and she set him up to start a nearly three-year adventure to fulfill his dream.
“Vickie was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
At first, he thought it would be too difficult.
“I don’t think I can do it,” he recalls telling her. “I need too many credits.”
But Jirak encouraged him to take one class at a time and assured him that he could accomplish his goal.
Studying was difficult as he worked nights at the casino and sometimes fell asleep as he studied.
His wife, Cynthia, was supportive and would wake him up and keep him going.
Walker had to take a whole gamut of classes, including math, science, and history.
“I was the one who started it, and I was going to finish it,” he said. “Now, I’ve got my diploma.”
Unlike six of his Kansas Online Learning Program classmates, Walker didn’t actually walk across the stage this weekend to pick up his diploma. He picked it up in April, during a visit to the school with his wife.
He donned cap and gown, had his picture taken, received his diploma, and bought a nearly $400 class ring — along with treats for staff members who had helped him achieve his dream.
“Vickie and the whole state of Kansas saw my dream, and I did it!” he said. “I got my diploma.
“When we got home, I took my diploma out to the cemetery where my mom is buried and I laid it across her tombstone and said, ‘Look, Mom, I did it.’”
Walker’s children were shocked to learn of his graduation. They thought he had graduated as a young man because he was always encouraging them to get an education.
One of his kids has a master’s degree. Another drives for FedEx, and a third plans to become a firefighter.
At age 58, Walker doesn’t know whether it will be possible to get a better job, but he has an application — enhanced by a high school diploma — ready to go.
Other online grads
For Demi Bollinger, getting a high school diploma via Centre’s online program was like coming home.
She attended seventh grade at Centre and continued in public school after her family moved to Abilene. She decided to do her senior year online there, enrolling in Abilene’s online school for one semester. But she switched to Centre’s program for her final semester because it offered more flexibility regarding course deadlines.
“I liked working at my own pace,” she said. “I could get through sooner.”
Already attending Central Missouri University, she came back to walk with other Centre graduates.
Majoring in marketing with a minor in hospital administration, she hopes to become a hospital CEO.
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Getting a jump on a career was important for another Centre online graduate with local connections.
Alexius Kendrick, an 18-year-old Pilsen resident who walked across the stage and graduated with honors Sunday, has been working for two years as a certified nurse’s assistant at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro.
“Last summer I grew very close to some of the residents, and I wanted to continue to take care of them, so I enrolled in the Kansas Online Learning Program,” she said.
Her online schedule allowed her to work full-time by the end of December, when she found out she had enough credits to graduate.
She decided to continue with college-level courses in algebra, composition, and psychology and finished with a grade-point average of 3.7.
She plans to take anatomy and physiology through Butler Community College this fall and then pursue a nursing career. She wants eventually to become a nurse practitioner.
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Ethan Schmied of Wichita attended Valley Center High School for three years before enrolling as a senior in Centre’s online program.
The 19-year-old needed just a few credits to earn his diploma, so earning them online made sense.
“It was set up nice,” he said. “It was easy to understand. It worked out well for me.”
A mechanic at Johnson Automotive in Valley Center, he received his diploma earlier this year and chose not to walk at Centre’s graduation.
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Centre’s Kansas Online Learning Program graduated a total of 25 students this year.