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Richard A. Staley Jr. had been told many times that he can’t. Last week, he walked across the stage at Westlake High School with a diploma, letting everyone know that he can.

The ceremony’s graduates, from the Charles County Adult Education Program, produced the most adults walking for their diplomas and General Educational Development certificates in the program’s history.

At the high school on Oct. 25, 197 Southern Maryland residents were recognized as high school graduates after completing the necessary requirements of the GED program or the National External Diploma Program through the Lifelong Learning Center in Waldorf.

Of the graduates, 72 attended the ceremony.

Staley of Lexington Park said his journey to getting a high school diploma started about 10 years ago when he took the test for a GED certificate. He said he was able to do well on practice exams but when it came to the actual test for his certificate, he wasn’t able to pass. Staley said he quit for a little while.

When he decided to try again, he said, he was sidetracked by a car accident that left him in a coma for four months.

Many didn’t expect he would accomplish much after the accident, including the ability to walk, but he said he was determined.

Three months after the coma, he said, he walked into his doctor’s office and was given the OK to go back to work.

Staley said if he was able to walk when nobody thought he could, “Why can’t I go back to get my diploma?”

“I’m here to tell everyone that I could do it. That I got my high school diploma.”

Staley encouraged graduates to be the person in someone else’s life who pushes for success.

“Let’s help someone else do it,” he said.

He encouraged others to be the type of person to push those who don’t think they can succeed so they too can realize they can.

These were 72 adults with very different stories about why they went back to get their diploma. For some, the diploma was necessary to advance in their jobs, some did it for themselves and others got diplomas for their families.

Debbie Wedding of Indian Head realized that she was in a rut and the only way to get out of it was to go back to school.

“I did it for me,” she said.

Joseph Kotvis of Waldorf got his diploma for his kids.

“I wanted them to see that you got to graduate. I don’t want them to have an excuse,” he said.

Christian Kotvis, 5, was happy to see his dad at the graduation, giving him a big hug and stealing his graduation cap after the ceremony.

Christian said the day was his dad’s graduation day and that he got his diploma. He said he didn’t help his dad with his school work because “I don’t need to. I worry about my homework.”

Adult education program coordinator Elizabeth Sinnes said it was the largest participation in the program’s 33 graduations.

The number of graduates, she said, has been steady at close to 200.

gphillips@somdnews.com