Geraldine Scott always knew one thing was certain — she could count on her sister, Connie. The sisters were naturally close, especially since they were the only girls out of six siblings.

They fought sometimes when they were younger. They also laughed a lot. They even dreamed together. Each day they watched game shows like “Family Feud,” “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right” and fantasized about winning big and travelling.

“We were gonna get that. We were gonna go on there and get that money,” Scott said.

That dream ended in January 2022 when Connie died unexpectedly.

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The loss convinced Scott to tie up loose ends in her life — most notably, never finishing high school.

Over 50 years have passed since she was last in school as a teenager. But now, as a 73–year-old, class is back in session for Scott, who is enrolled in a Baltimore City Community College program to get her diploma.

“The more I think about her, the more I know that she would want me to do something, and I always feel like she’s here to support me, rooting me on,” Scott said. People can make all the plans in the world, she added, but you have to act on those plans.

Scott is a rarity at her age — the median age of GED test-takers is 23 years old and less than 0.2% are 60 or older, according to GED Testing Service Data. Fewer than 230,000 people in the United States took at least one GED test in 2021.

Geraldine Scott, 73, was motivated by the sudden loss of her sister to go back to school to earn her diploma. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

Scott always loved school. The Baltimore native enjoyed math and aspired to be just like her father, who she described as highly educated. Different degrees and certificates hung from a wall at his home, she said, and he was proud of them.

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At 15 years old, Scott, naive about sex, got pregnant by her then-boyfriend and stopped going to school. She was in ninth grade. Though her father never said it out loud, she felt like he was disappointed.

Scott spent the night before she delivered her son alone at a hospital in Sandtown in West Baltimore. Her mother left her at the hospital for reasons Scott’s still unsure of, but she assumes it was disappointment Scott waited in a large room with other patients where thin curtains separated the beds. A sliver of light escaped the closed doors of the room like a false dawn.

“You remember when you have a baby,” she said. “That’s stuff you don’t forget.” Having a baby was like “her childhood had ended.”

Scott and her son lived with her mother and stepfather after she gave birth, but she didn’t feel at home there. She was abused by a relative and when she told her mother about it, she didn’t believe her, complicating their relationship even more, Scott said.

Opportunities to get her diploma seemed few and far between, but when she tried she always hit an obstacle. Like when she had a chance to join a program affiliated with the army, but her mother wouldn’t babysit so she could complete the six-week basic training.

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“I could have got my education and traveled in the military. I would have been away from them. I thought that was going to be perfect,” she said.

At 17, she got pregnant with her daughter. A few months after delivering her, Scott took her son to the state fair in Delaware and visited step relatives, leaving her daughter behind with her mother. But Scott couldn’t return to Baltimore. Her stepfather, she said, threatened to report her for truancy, so she stayed in Delaware until she turned 18. When she got back, she worked as much as she could, “faking it,” she said, until she made it.

Over the years she held many jobs. She worked at a pizza place, a nursing home, a Chinese food spot and more, but found a real passion as a florist in Baltimore. A center Scott used for services, including food assistance, recommended she apply for a job at a florist shop in Northwest Baltimore. The shop was “swanky,” Scott said, and she was intimidated because of her lack of education. But she loved flowers and enjoyed building relationships with customers and learning how to make dish gardens, bows, and various arrangements. She even worked her way up to a lead designer.

“The Lord is good. That’s all I can tell you. … The Lord loves this little Black girl,” Scott said after a soft laugh.

Her son, Anthony Ross, said he never thought about the limits of his mother’s education because as a single parent she always had a job. It was hard for them growing up, he said, because they constantly moved and often relied on relatives for child care and Christmas gifts. Sometimes Scott took her children to work with her.

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“She devoted herself to her craft and she flourished from that,” Ross said.

Scott was married twice, once in Baltimore and again when she moved to Everett, Washington, in the early 1990s. She wanted a change of scenery and a new start. Both marriages were “holy messes,” a phrase — along with the word “hell” — that make Scott reiterate “I’m a Baptist.”

As she got older, Scott’s health issues hindered her career. She developed rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer, which resulted in a mastectomy. Having kids young was “a blessing in disguise” because she had to have a hysterectomy at 28. Today, Scott uses Lori’s Hands, a nonprofit that helps those with chronic illnesses with day-to-day tasks, like cleaning or picking up prescriptions.

Scott is part of the community college’s adult basic education and GED programs. She takes online classes in math, science and English. Her initial goal was to take the GED test and get her diploma by spring, but a recent weekslong stay in the hospital is stretching the timeline.

“I’m not gonna stop until I get my high school diploma,” Scott said.

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Classes were initially a struggle because she had limited experience with computers, but she “doesn’t let anything beat” her and figures it out. She has a granddaughter, a friend who teaches at Morgan State University, and a “church daughter” who help her if she doesn’t understand something.

“I look at some of this math stuff here,” Scott said as she pointed to a page in a thick, purple GED preparatory book. “What is this?” she asked. “It’s like Greek to me.”

Overall, Scott really enjoys school, including learning about writing and how to make words flow and connect different thoughts, she said. She plans to write a book someday.

She said it’s helpful that her instructors teach at a steady pace so everyone has an opportunity to understand.

Lakesha Davis, an instructor with the community college, said Scott was very quiet at first and was a bit hard on herself when she didn’t understand something. Gradually, Davis said, Scott’s writing has improved and she sees an increase in her confidence and her willingness to answer questions.

“I really do admire her efforts. … she’s one of the best students,” Davis said. Scott, she added, seems very eager to finish the program.

Darryl Rogers, a director of adult basic education with the community college, said he tries to emphasize that students who complete the program and pass the GED test will get a state-issued high school diploma. The community college holds a ceremony for graduates in June. When she does eventually graduate, Scott said, she’ll cherish the moment and never forget that she finally did it.

On a Wednesday morning, Scott slowly inched toward a desk near her front door to log into class. Her house is riddled with plants and family photos, including a picture of Connie getting her high school diploma. The day marked one year since her sister, her relentless cheerleader, died. She uses school and church to fill the void and sadness she still feels, Scott said.

For now, two things are certain — Scott’s determined to get her diploma and she can imagine what Connie would say if she were still alive.

“About time,” she’d say. “I told you you can do it.”

jasmine.vaughn@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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