Matthew Guevara had little more than the clothes on his back when he found himself homeless in Washington, D.C. and dropping out of school before his senior year.
A decade later, the 28-year-old was the proud recipient of high school diploma, part of the first graduating class of the state-funded Career Online High School.
"I’m here because I finally want to do this right,” Guevara said minutes before putting on his royal blue cap and gown at the Orlando Public Library Saturday.
Guevara was one of 19 graduates to receive his high school diploma and a work certificate after completing the program over the last year. Eight students walked across the stage in a quick graduation ceremony at the Central Boulevard library.
The program, which started in Orange County in December 2015, now has more than 150 students, said Donna Bachowski, who helps coordinate the free offering.
So far, 107 people have graduated from the online program. Students can pick from eight career tracks for their certificates: child care and education, certified protection officer, certified transportation services, general professional skills, homeland security, office management, retail customer service skills and food and customer service skills.
Participants work at their own pace to complete the program, getting up to 18 months to complete just as many credits of classes.
“These are students that are literally being given a second chance to finish their high school diplomas,” Bachowski said. “For whatever reason they weren’t able to finish the first time.”
Guevara, who got his certificate in Homeland Security, said getting his diploma was for his family as much as it was for himself. He took about a year to earn his diploma.
“I have to do something to show my sons there’s more out here,” he said. “There’s something you can be if you put your mind to it.”
Bachowski said she was proud of the county’s first batch of graduates. A second class will celebrate in a similar ceremony in August, she said.
“It’s such a rush,” she said. “I’ve been a librarian for over 20 years and this has brought back that spark of why I became a librarian in the first place.”
Orange County’s success stories joins the growing list of graduates from around the state, said Amy Johnson, the state’s librarian. The program is offered in 25 counties around the state, she said.
“You all are such an inspiration to all of us,” she said in an address to graduates. “Your dedication and achievement is evident in your accomplishment.”
Saturday’s graduates included mother-daughter duo La’Shawn Grant and LaDasha Daniels, who walked the stage one after the other.
Grant, 38, said she was originally looking for a high school completion program for 19-year-old Daniels when she decided to complete her education as well.
“I want her to go to college and experience college,” said Grant, who picked the child care certificate.
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