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A Bigger Vision

You’ve heard the statistics—on average high school graduates can make about $300,000 more over their career than those without a diploma. That’s the difference between sending kids to college, owning a home, paying off a car, retiring and not having to work, or countless other life-changing possibilities.

Top row from  (L-R) - Patricia Peters, Ashley Priester, Epiphany Updegrove, Sandra and Clyde Strickland. Bottom row from (L-R) - Edrick Buthelezi, K’Quane Henry, Octavia Holmes, Natachia Manning, Sandra O’Gilvie

By taking the step and getting a high school diploma, one person can change their trajectory and affect dozens of people within their circle of influence. 

Just here in Gwinnett, there are about 70,000 adults who have not graduated high school.  The reason for their disrupted course is inconsequential—it is best to remove as many obstacles as possible for every person who wants to complete their GED. One of the most significant hurdles is not aptitude but schedule flexibility. Many adults who have the desire to get their GED just cannot consistently conform to the schedule needed for completion. 

Now, there is an option for everyone. There is a program where an adult can start whenever they want or can and not have to wait until the beginning of a term. They can go at their own pace; they can schedule their class on their lunch break on one day and cram one in at midnight the next. They can take an extra day or two off if they have a sick child and not get behind. They can work that overtime shift to help pay for Christmas and won’t miss finals. All of those “what ifs” no longer shackle an aspiring adult from achieving the goal of a high school diploma. 

The Gwinnett County Public Library’s Career Online High School (COHS) now provides an entirely flexible high school diploma program. Even better, they offer it completely free. Through private funding, the COHS launched the program with 50 scholarships to offer adults seeking to change their course in life. The only time a student has to come to a designated location is for an introductory interview and graduation. Each student must have an initial, in-person meeting to begin the process. This session not only allows the applicant to understand the process and expectations but also allows the people who run the program to learn about the students–to hear their unique story and goals. There is also a probationary period requiring the student to meet specific markers within a set amount of time to continue in the program and retain the scholarship.

How the COHS received its original funding is a remarkable story. Clyde Strickland grew up, in his own words, poorer than dirt. He gave lackluster high school effort, only showing up half the time. At 15 1/2 and with $3 in his pocket, Clyde left home and high school. By pure grit and hard work, he found ways to survive until he was 19 and recognized the valuable opportunity the military had to offer. When he enlisted, Clyde admits that he could barely keep up an intellectual conversation or effectively work with his high school and college graduate co-workers. So, while stationed in Germany, Clyde got his GED and fell in love with the power of education. He went on to work in the 24th Medical Battalion, overseeing close to 70 vehicles when he left to pursue civilian life (and “come home for some of Mamma’s biscuits”). That one decision—getting his GED—led to him having the life tools to start several entrepreneurial businesses (one now em-ploys over 400 workers), earn the honor of Teacher of the Year for Atlanta area schools in 1997 and 1998, and later fund COHS. A high school drop-out turned Teacher of the year—one of the best examples of a decision to change your course resulting in changing and inspiring the lives of countless others. Education has a web of influence, so Clyde personally funded the program to change lives. Clyde has an insatiable passion for expanding minds. It isn’t about the piece of paper. Clyde explains that “a degree has never made a dollar. But education—moving your brain—can make millions.”

The most significant limitation of the program is funding. The cost per student to complete the program is about $1300. The school funds a cohort of 25 students at a time. Therefore they need private donations totaling about $33,000 for each group. Also, the Public Library absorbs about $35,000 in operational costs. The COHS would like to continue to grow and offer the opportunity to anyone who wants their GED. Besides making donations, the library system will welcome other offerings to help enrich the program such as educators helping with tutoring or other educational support.

It is important to note that this valuable program is not charity. Clyde’s motto is “I believe in giving a hand up, not a handout.” This is about targeting sights higher—looking toward bigger potential. This program is not just to get that paper diploma in someone’s hand. It is about the new places that achievement can take them. Even this very first graduating class exemplifies this vision of exponential growth. Edrick Buthelezi powered through the entire program to finish in time to enroll at Gwinnett Tech to study computer programming, all while working full time to help provide for his wife and two small children. K’Quane Henry will also springboard this accomplishment into starting her own business in the field of childcare. 

These two inaugural graduates embody the whole vision of the program. Taking one step to change your course is only one step. But the more you do with that one step, the bigger the changes you can make. Clyde Strickland also muses that “two hands can only do so much work, but one brain can be dangerous.” 

To learn more about the COHS, or make donations to help continue and expand this incredible program, visit

For other ways to contribute, or for questions about the program, contact Casey Wallace at or 770-822-5356