LYNN HAVEN — Haney Technical Center’s 80-year-old scholar, Mary Roberts, died May 6, and while she might have been just shy of officially completing her GED, Haney did her one better.

During her final days in hospice, Haney presented Roberts with an honorary GED and held a small graduation ceremony for Roberts, complete with cap and gown, to round out her lifelong dream to finish her diploma.

To top it off, she chose to be buried in her graduation gown.

Her nephew, Gene Keen, said she received more graduation balloons than flowers — a testament to what she cared for most.

“I think it was her faith in God that sent her toward that,” Keen said. “There were several things that got in the way, time being one of them, but it was one of the last things she wanted to do.”

Like many students, Roberts began taking classes at Haney Technical Center in May 2018 with the goal of earning her GED. Unlike many, however, Roberts made the decision to finally complete her education at a much older age.

“When she first came in, I was nervous as a teacher that I might not be able to meet her needs because I had never taught someone 80 years old,” said Angela Carpenter, Roberts’ GED instructor. “I found out soon she was really a blessing to me and I was able to meet her needs just as if she were 18.”

Roberts grew up in Morgan City, Louisiana, with 17 siblings. As a Native American child, Roberts was unable to attend local schools segregating black and white children.

Later in life, Roberts married and devoted her time to raising her three boys. She did not learn to read until 19 years ago, when she first attempted to get her GED. Family troubles forced her to put the dream on hold until last year.

“Just recently, just before turning 80, she decided to pick it back up and finish up,” Keen said. “That was just a personal goal that she set for herself, that she wanted to get it accomplished.”

Roberts was a member of Springfield Community Church, where she originally met Keen as a child, long before Keen went on to date and then marry her niece.

“She was an aunt but she’s known me all my life, like another grandmother. Losing her was as hard as losing my grandmother,” Keen said.

In class, Carpenter soon grew fond of Roberts’ unique presence. Roberts would use nicknames from “Sweetie” to “Darling” for her teacher, and “youngins” for her classmates, who ranged in age from 18 to more than 60 years old.

Student behavior also improved when Roberts was in attendance, Carpenter said. Each day, students would walk Roberts back to her car, which she drove to and from class, and run favors such as sharpening her pencils.

Roberts was a role model for her classmates. Even when struggling with material, she remained positive in her outlook on life and dedicated to the course, constantly telling her teacher and classmates she was too blessed to be stressed.

“She was one of the most determined students I’ve ever had, out of 33 years, almost 34 now, of education,” Carpenter said. “She knew that her time was getting near the end and that probably made it even more essential for her.”