70-year-old gets her high school diploma
0904BNI HAMMOND | Bishop Noll Institute Principal Colleen McCoy-Cejka, left, on Friday confers an honorary high school diploma to Edith Brown, 70, a hospice resident of St. James Manor and Villas in Crete. Brown received the diploma as part of St. James' "Never Too Late" program which helps fulfill the wishes of its residents. Jeanette Lach

CRETE | The newest member of Bishop Noll Institute's graduating class of 2010 is a 70-year-old mother of eight who always wanted a high school diploma.

Edith Brown grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss., finished the sixth grade, got married at 14, had her first child by 15, and had seven more before age 25, said her daughter, Suzette Brown, of St. Louis.

"Her focus was on raising her children. She always wanted her children to benefit from getting an education," Suzette Brown said in the foyer to the St. James Manor and Villas chapel.

Her mother is a resident of the facility's hospice care program.

Festooned with gold and blue balloons -- Bishop Noll's colors -- the chapel was the setting for the unusual graduation Friday. Bishop Noll Principal Colleen McCoy-Cejka conferred an honorary degree upon Brown, naming her an official alumna of the Catholic high school in Hammond.

Fourteen Bishop Noll students in uniform marched into the chapel to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance," followed by Brown in a wheelchair, dressed in blue cap and gown.

"She wanted a high school diploma, that was the one thing she ever consistently wanted," Suzette Brown said in her remarks to the audience.

Edith Brown's wish started to become a reality when another daughter, Rosette Martin, called St. James in mid-July, requesting her mother obtain a General Equivalency Diploma, or GED, through the facility's "Never Too Late" program, said Resident Activities Director Megan Makarek.

Makarek worked on the request and learned Edith Brown would have to take a test to obtain the GED.

An August dinner table conversation at the home of Chris Dabrowski, St. James' interim assistant director of nursing, got the ball rolling.

Dabrowski mentioned it to her son, Stanley, a sophomore at Bishop Noll.

"I told her to call Bishop Noll, I thought they'd be happy to do it," said Stanley Dabrowski, who read the opening prayer.

It took all of three weeks -- and nearly 60 years -- to get Edith Brown her diploma.

"Always remember, there are no shortcuts to achievements," McCoy-Cejka told the audience. "The best things in life do not come easy."

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Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.