BROOKSVILLE — Joe D'Andrea is not your typical high school senior getting ready to walk across a stage to accept a diploma. For starters, he is 58 years old.
For another, he's been in the workforce for 40 years. But he will receive that coveted piece of paper tonight, and he is proud of his accomplishment.
"When I was back in high school, I was supposed to graduate in 1967," he said. "But back then, you really didn't need a diploma for a half-way decent job."
D'Andrea went on to own a business with a partner.
"I used to own Old World Antiques," he said, and he had an appraiser's license.
Once that business was sold, D'Andrea wanted to continue working and drove a parts truck for AutoWay Ford. He eventually moved to the new car department, readying new vehicles for the sales lot.
He has since changed jobs, having been hired to weld circuit boards for Sparton Electronics of Florida. But before getting that job, he made a decision.
"I think it's about time I went back to school. Forty years later, I wanted to be in school," he said.
So D'Andrea took advantage of the opportunity offered by the Adult Education Center at Nature Coast Technical High School, under the direction of Harry Wilson. He began in January 2007 and finished the following June. He waited until this year to graduate.
What a difference 40 years makes when it comes to attitudes about going to school.
"It was amazing," he said.
He really applied himself this time around, and he definitely wanted to be there.
"The teachers are so amazing," D'Andrea said.
D'Andrea recalled one day when he drove to school as usual and saw no other vehicles there. A neighborhood youngster told him that it was spring break.
"I was so disappointed," he said.
One of D'Andrea's favorite people at the Adult Education Center is GED registrar Kim Brownell. "Kim was the biggest help to me," he said. "I can't thank her enough. She is absolutely the best."
Brownell thought highly of D'Andrea as well.
"He was so appreciative of our help," she said. "He was a motivated student, so he was a pleasure to watch go through the program. We were very excited for Joe."
D'Andrea likes to cook and liked the staff at the Adult Education Center so much that he cooked a big Italian dinner for them one night and carted it all in for them.
"One weekend I stayed home and cooked a whole bunch of stuff and fed everyone," he said.
"It was like he catered for us," Brownell said.
Having earned his state of Florida high school diploma at last, Joe is happy to help others.
"I'm encouraging whoever I can, whenever I can," he said. "That old saying that knowledge is power is so true. You can't get anywhere without an education today."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.