PILESGROVE, N.J. - It was a day she never thought she'd see.
But there she was Tuesday, 96-year-old Leona Paulus of Pittsgrove, known to everyone as Auntie Lee, dressed in cap and gown, walking to the music of pomp and circumstance.
She was finally receiving her high school diploma.
"Oh, I feel great. All these friends that's come here. I'm so proud, I'm so proud," Paulus said.
After her parents divorced during the Great Depression, Auntie Lee was raised by her aunt and uncle.
She was forced to drop out of school after eighth grade so she could work on their farm. She cried every time the school bus passed by.
"I didn't want to tell her I was out there crying because I wanted to go on that bus so bad. But oh well," Paulus said.
Auntie Lee was convinced to take the high school equivalency test by those at the Mid-Atlantic States Career and Education Center.
"She said she always wanted to have a diploma. That's when I said, 'I don't like the word no,'" Glen Donelson, President & CEO, said.
"If you take it at your age and pass it, he says, you'll help children. So that done it, when he said I could help children," Paulus said.
And this widowed mother of two with 12 grandchildren received near-perfect scores on every part of the test.
"Very proud of her. At her age doing this? It's amazing that she did it," daughter Pat Di Pasquale said.
"The GED is hard for me and I'm proud she got through it herself," son Lou Paulus said.
For more than 80 years, Auntie Lee's carried with her the desire to go back and finish her education. Hers is a wonderful story of never letting go of a dream.
"She had this in her dream that no matter what I'm going to do this and she saw her dream fulfilled," Ken Figgs of the New Jersey Department of Education said.
"I'm not as dumb as I looked, am I now? I passed my GED," Paulus said with a laugh.
She passed it at 96, with flying colors - a dream deferred that's now come true.
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