Graduates Emmalyn Lloyd, left, and Olga Tuttle and Philomath Academy's Beth Edgemon and Dan Johnson
Graduates Emmalyn Lloyd, left, and Olga Tuttle celebrate the awarding of their GED diplomas with Philomath Academy's Beth Edgemon, far left, and Dan Johnson among those applauding. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In front of a small gathering last week on a Wednesday evening in Philomath, two students in blue graduation gowns turned their tassels after receiving diplomas to wrap up a short ceremony.

The achievement that marked the end of one journey and beginning of another could be seen in the smiles that they wore on their faces. It may not have been in front of a full stadium with hundreds cheering them but to these students, but the March 16 ceremony held just as much significance.

Philomath Academy students Emmalyn Lloyd and Olga Tuttle had their GED diplomas in hand and could now celebrate.

“I’ve had to move a lot during school since COVID and the fact that I was able to finish it — and finish before the end of my senior year — is amazing,” said Lloyd, an 18-year-old former Philomath resident who now lives in Corvallis. “It gives me so many opportunities … I’m very excited.”

“It feels really amazing to have done this during a time where I was kind of unsure if I’d be able to do it with COVID (restrictions),” said Tuttle, a 17-year-old from Blodgett. “I’m glad I was finally able to achieve this.”

Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson has always placed an emphasis during his career in education on remaining an advocate for students. He’s spent the past 14 years in the Philomath School District working in alternative education.

“The last two years since the academy’s been going, we have worked to get the GED program going and so we began a testing center here,” Johnson said. “We are a private GED testing center.”

Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson interacts with school board members Erin Gudge and Joe Dealy. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The importance of providing a GED testing center in Philomath took on more importance during the pandemic with fewer opportunities for those students.

“The only testing center available for us was at the U-of-O on a Tuesday morning once a week,” Johnson said. “And you had to get there and no one was traveling.”

In previous years, Philomath students had gone to Linn-Benton Community College to qualify for their GED diploma.

In 2020, the organization that oversees GED testing launched an online program that allowed students to take the exam at home while being securely monitored by an online proctor — if certain requirements were met. However, Johnson encountered what he described as a “hiccup in their system” related to permissions.

In the end, those challenges didn’t matter with Philomath becoming its own testing center.

The GED program — a trademark abbreviation for General Educational Development tests — features a battery of exams designed by the American Council on Education to measure high school equivalency.

Johnson said there are four basic tests:

“A math test, which has up through some Algebra 2 concepts.

“Social sciences, which includes American government, which is a senior-based class.

“There’s a science, which has biology and a little bit of chemistry but mostly biology and general science.

“And then language arts with reading and writing.”

Emmalyn Lloyd, front, and Olga Tuttle walk in to begin a special Philomath Academy ceremony to celebrate the awarding of their GED diplomas. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Prior to the opening of the testing center in Philomath, local students who received GED diplomas had no type of event to mark the occasion.

“This is an accomplishment so we’re really pushing that people know this is a true accomplishment in someone’s life,” Johnson said.

The Academy’s Johnson and counselor Beth Edgemon were both there in their graduation regalia. Philomath School Board members were among those in the audience. Edgemon led the ceremony with occasional commentary from Johnson. Tuttle also shared what the moment meant to her before family and friends crowded around to take those precious photos.

“I’ve always struggled in school and during high school, my mental health got really bad and so I was kind of unsure if I would even get a diploma or anything equivalent,” Tuttle said. “It’s really big for me to be able to prove to myself that I actually did do it.”

Olga Tuttle, center, reads comments that she prepared for the March 16 ceremony while fellow graduate Emmalyn Lloyd, left, and Dan Johnson look on. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Lloyd said it was a challenge with everything going on in the world.

“It has been years of just a lot of nothing happening and a lot of change,” Lloyd said. “When there’s a lot of change happening when you can’t actually go outside and see people, it’s hard to get used to it and deal with it.”

Now, it’s full steam ahead on what’s next in life.

Said Lloyd, “First of all, I just have this part of my life done and I can start looking into driver’s ed and looking into LBCC, and I can start a job.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.