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Diane Cotton got pregnant in 10th grade, and though she wanted to stick with school, she found she couldn't. She dropped out.

Over time she let go the idea that she could finish, but she didn't forget. People would tell her it was too hard for her and not to bother.

Twenty-five years after leaving high school, she picked up a temporary job with Goodwill Industries through Inn Transitions, a local social services agency. To make that job permanent, she needed her high school diploma.

And work began in earnest again. She had to face her learning disabilities -- dyslexia, attention deficit disorder -- head-on by working with a psychiatrist who could validate her disabilities. She also studied one-on-one with a tutor and appealed for special testing accommodations.

The persistence over the course of more than a year led her to a high school equivalency diploma in November.

On Thursday, she celebrated that diploma with about 50 fellow "completers" during a ceremony at Coconino Community College, complete with traditional caps and gowns.

Successful students in the locally run high school equivalency program have grown. Last year, 137 people earned their diploma. This year, it was 179.

CCC provides a path for adults of all ages to earn their equivalency diplomas. Some students need more preparation than others for the battery of tests that can take more than seven hours to complete.

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Diane Cotton earned a place in the National Adult Education Honor Society and plans to stay at CCC to earn an associate's degree in social work (all of the local graduates get three free credits at the college).

Colleges and universities and many employers want at least a high school diploma. Locally, Coconino Community College and Northern Arizona University accept equivalency diploma recipients for degree programs. Homeschooled students may be required to pass the GED test for admission to college, but not necessarily.

Most of the people who celebrated their diplomas Thursday were younger adults -- 20- and 30-somethings -- but others were middle-aged. There were two happy sets of sisters.

The successful students were given an open mic to share their gratitude. They thanked teachers, family, friends and co-workers. Some were soft-spoken, others boisterous. Some wept.

"I want to show my children that they can do it because I can do it," said Desiree Magana.

Hilda Saucedo looked forward with this accomplishment behind her.

"It's gonna be better," she said.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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