HOLIDAY — School was always a struggle for Michael DaConceicao. Still, he managed all right until his freshman year of high school, when he moved to the Midwest to live with his dad.
That year his dad, a district manager for Wal-Mart, got transferred four times to three states.
"High school's definitely the roughest time — at least for me it was," said DaConceicao, 23. "It was getting hard and the kids — well I just didn't relate to them. I didn't like school. I started skipping. Stayed at home. Watched videos. Played the music real loud. Had my own little party."
And dropped out.
Fast forward six years to tonight, when DaConceicao will collect his GED at the adult education commencement at River Ridge. He will be one of about 200 students earning their GEDs, high school diplomas or certificates of completion at ceremonies tonight in New Port Richey and Wesley Chapel.
"I just think Michael's amazing. He never has a bad word to say about anyone," said his teacher, Cindy Carson. "He's very disciplined, very dedicated and humble. And he's worked through his challenges and kept moving."
DaConceicao's biggest challenge, it turned out, was Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism that he wasn't diagnosed with until he was 17.
"The doctor could tell right away from my mannerisms and the way I talked," DaConceicao said. "Finally it all started to make sense to me."
DaConceicao finally understood why the classroom noise bothered him so much; why he had trouble relating to the other kids; why he had difficulty keeping eye contact and spent so much time wringing his hands.
Even so, he tried not to let it become an excuse for failure.
At 17, he moved back to Pasco County to be near his mom, Dinah Kalafatis. With the help of his dad, he found a place of his own close to the Port Richey Wal-Mart, where he got a job unloading trucks. And after a nudge from his mom, he enrolled in GED classes at Marchman Education Center.
And he dropped out there, too.
But in the spring of 2007, he started attending GED classes again, this time with Carson. The two met at Gulf High School and the Centennial Library in Holiday, where DaConceicao found the quiet atmosphere more conducive to learning. He passed the GED in February.
His mom hosted a party for him earlier this summer.
"It was wonderful. Everyone was so nice," he said. "I got a lot of money for that. I told people, 'I think I'll graduate a few more times.' "
Or perhaps he'll take a foreign language class or two, which would come in handy for his upcoming trip to Portugal with his dad to visit family.
"You can get a good job if you can speak a foreign language," DaConceicao said. "I want to better myself. I love the job I have now but I know there's something better for me."
Michele Miller can be reached at 727-869-6251 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org