Fifty years later, Mattapan woman completes her high school journey

By 
Martine Louis
Jul. 2, 2008

Sixty-eight-year-old Lula Mae Johnson is living proof that education has no statute of limitations.

In May, Johnson was one of 37 adults to cross the stage during a GED ceremony at Faneuil Hall. Now the Mattapan resident says her next step is a college degree.

Back in her native South Carolina, Johnson was a student at Roberts High School. The summer before her senior year Lula, then 19, says she and her boyfriend decided to get married, which led to her decision not to return to school.

"I thought I was grown. Like being married made me an adult," said Johnson. "My father was strongly against me dropping out. He wanted me to go back, but at the same time I was married and he chose to respect my wishes."

Soon after they were married Lula and her husband started a family and moved to Boston. In 1994 the mother of five opened her own daycare center - New Horizons, in Mattapan - but after eight years of service Johnson says the Department of Child Care Licensing asked her to shut down due to her lack of a high school diploma.

"I have always wanted to go back to school, but I was never really in the position to take that on," said Johnson. "I was working and I was raising my children- I had no time to be a student as well. "But the experience of being shut down because I had not finished high school made me see that it was seriously time for me to go back and take care of my education."

In 2002, Johnson enrolled in General Equivalency Diploma (GED) courses at Project Hope in Boston, and later joined the Adult Diploma Program at the Notre Dame Education Center in South Boston. After years of studying and taking prep courses, Lula passed the English Language Arts MCAS, but continued to struggle with the math portion after three attempts.

As an alternative, Lula completed a portfolio of 150 pages of math problems. Shortly after, the city and state decided Lula Mae Johnson had fulfilled all requirements to become a high school graduate.

On May 30, her husband, their five children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild rallied around her in support as Johnson acquired what she says was "the missing piece" in her life. In the fall Johnson says she plans to attend UMass Boston to study law and adds Cambridge College has offered her free courses.

"I have always wanted to be a lawyer and now I feel like I am finally getting my chance to make my dreams come true," said Lula. "I definitely would have had it easier if I would have just stayed in school all those years ago, but I can't undo my past."

"All I can do now is work on my future and make sure it is a bright one," continued Lula. "Speaking from experience, I want to tell everyone out there… if, for whatever reason, you have left school, you need to go back. You truly cannot do anything without that diploma in your hands.

"And for those of you who are in school, please, stay in school. It will carry you far."

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