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George Rowell looked slightly embarrassed Friday night as he untangled his green graduation gown from his left pocket. "I've never done this before," said the 71-year-old great-grandfather of two. "By the way, is my cap straight?"

Rowell was one of 400 adult and community education students who received high school diplomas or General Education Development (GED) equivalency certificates in front of more than 850 supporters at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall.

Rowell advised everyone who doesn't have a high school degree to go and get it.

"Why not give it a shot," he said. "There's nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Daniel J. Valdez, director of the Hillsborough County adult and community education program, congratulated Rowell on his willingness to continue his education.

"George exposes our philosophy that education is lifelong," Valdez said.

Hillsborough County School Board member Faye Culp advised graduates to be wise in the pursuit of future questions and answers.

"It is in your hands now," Culp said. "Decisions will be yours to make."

Shauna Russell, 21, who received both the principal's and honor awards, was proud of her accomplishments.

"It's three years late but I'm glad I finally did it," she said. "I really feel like I've accomplished something and doing it on my own makes it feel like it's worth more."