During her 89 years, Dorothy Wentz raised 10 children, traveled throughout the United States and Europe, and wrote a book.
Last winter, she decided she wanted to be a high school graduate.
The announcement startled her 61-year-old daughter.
"She helped us with our history and geography," Marilynn Jessup said. "I never knew she didn't have her diploma."
Jessup and six of her siblings cheered Thursday night as their mother, clad in black cap and gown, gingerly crossed the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall and shook hands with Pinellas school officials.
"For the first 30 years, I didn't even have time to think about it," said Wentz, who dropped out of Michigan's St. Louis High nearly three-quarters of a century ago. "After the kids got through with school I started to think, 'I wish I could do that.' "
Wentz was among 211 students honored at the Pinellas School District's 23rd countywide graduation ceremony. Most had passed the General Educational Development test and received a state of Florida diploma. Eighteen completed coursework over the summer to receive a regular high school diploma.
While the district prefers that students graduate in four years with the group they started with as freshmen, it provides alternatives for those who, like Wentz, need a second chance. Each year, about 16,000 students of all ages attend one of the district's three community schools, three adult education centers and two technical education centers.
More than 2,200 completed the requirements for graduation this year, earning a minimum score of 410 in each of the GED test's five sections. Many struggled against seemingly insurmountable odds, said Jane Huber, an administrator at Lakewood Community School.
"It really is inspirational to work with these students," Huber said. "You see some of the problems they've had in their lives, and yet they accomplish their dream."
Janelle Read dropped out at 17, had three children, and went to work cleaning classrooms for the school district. She attended night classes off and on for years but always got discouraged and quit.
"I was thinking, 'I'll raise the kids, then I'll do my schooling,' " Read said. "Then I thought, 'No, I have to better myself to show them they need to better themselves.' "
Another Pinellas schools employee, Robert Hutchins, also passed the GED test this year. Now the 26-year-old groundskeeper is thinking he'd like to work for Progress Energy.
"You can't even apply without an education," Hutchins said. "I'm still young enough to make up for lost time if I get on the ball and do it now."
For Wentz, the evening brought a different kind of satisfaction.
"At my age, I'm not going to go out and get a job," she said. "I just wanted to earn my high school diploma before my time on Earth was over."