Ralph Pritt finally got to live his dream of walking the stage to get his diploma last Thursday.
Pritt, 71, completed his GED through the Culpeper Literacy Council and was surprised with a ceremony at Eastern View High School.
Thinking he was attending a ceremony about the Bright Spot Inclusive Playground, Pritt’s face froze in shock when it was revealed that the moment was all his – a moment he never thought he’d have when he left school in 1965.
“I had no idea, it was a complete surprise,” Pritt said. “When my wife said it was for me, I kind of looked around and saw what was going on.”
Pritt said he was scattered going to class from eighth grade until the 11th grade, when in March a guidance counselor said his odds of graduating weren’t great.
“She called me in and said ‘you’ll probably be 40 years old by the time you graduate because of all the classes you have to make up,” Pritt said. “That kind of persuaded me to go on to work.”
So for the next 45 years, that’s what he did for the Culpeper Stone Company, driving a concrete truck for the last 30 of those. Following his retirement in 2009, he wasn’t ready to be done working, so he started driving bus for Culpeper County Public Schools. That’s where he came in contact with now Culpeper County School Board Stevensburg District representative Marshall Keene, as he drove Keene’s girls to school.
Keene was so moved by Pritt’s goal and the realization of his dream that he helped set up Thursday night’s ceremony.
“I got a chance to know Mr. Pritt as he’s been driving my kids’ buses,” Keene said. “I’ve formed a relationship with him as a parent. He’s a role model for other kids to never give up and no matter how old you are, you can always accomplish anything with education.”
Pritt admits it was hard work, but he had a goal he wanted to accomplish and a strong support system pushing him to achieve it.
“It was something missing in my life and something I really regretted the whole time I was working,” Pritt said. “But having a family and having to work, I couldn’t really make any plans.”
That changed two years ago when he reached out to the Culpeper Literacy Council asking for a tutor. He was connected with Jill Skelton and she worked with him two hours twice a week to help him achieve his GED.
He said math and computers were the hardest subjects to master, as when he left school in 1965, computers were barely an idea in scientists minds.
“I was practically computer illiterate,” Pritt said.
“Learning to get it to do what I wanted it to do,” was the hardest aspect of learning computers, he said. “Most times it seemed like it had a mind of its own. Really that’s why I failed a couple of tests, was because I couldn’t work the computer as well as I should have. It wasn’t because I didn’t know it.”
His wife Tammy and his daughter April beamed with pride Thursday as donned his cap and gown and stepped on the stage to accept his diploma from Laura Wood, Executive Director of the Culpeper Literacy Council.
“He came to Culpeper Literacy about two years ago and he had the desire to achieve his GED,” Wood said. “He went back and he did it and he did it with flying colors. I’ve never screamed so loud in my life, but I was so overjoyed for him. That was the highlight of my year.”
Tammy said she constantly reminded Ralph that it was his position as a role model for April and his son Tony that required him to get his GED.
“I’m very proud of him,” Tammy said. “He has worked hard. I said you’re an example to your kids, you have to keep working. Nothing worth having is easy.”
Skelton said she was so proud of him, and that he was a diligent worker who took pride in getting answers right.
“He was working with Piedmont Regional Adult education program and he felt with language arts and math he needed a little more individualized (education),” Skelton said.
Pastor Lee Brown of First Century Baptist Church said Ralph was a good man who worked hard all his life, and now he is being rewarded.
“I just wanted to say today that I’m very proud of Ralph,” Brown said. “He went after his GED at 71 years old and he accomplished what he set out to do. It’s very easy to start something, it’s hard to finish. If you quit in the middle, you don’t accomplish. Ralph didn’t quit in the middle.”
John Walsh, Director of Transportation, Culpeper County Schools, has worked with Ralph for the past six years and said he sets an example for other students.
“He’s a lifelong learner,” Walsh said. “They started with the GED concept in 1942, for the soldiers coming back from the war. They looked at the GED as a second chance to correct something you may not have finished. Along the way, Ralph decided that GED was important to him. He committed himself to doing it.”
Congressman Dave Brat said that Culpeper’s commitment to honoring people like Ralph set it aside.
“You see a good man, a good wife, a good community and good educators,” Brat said. “I’m so proud to have you in my district. I wish everyone had these types of relationships.”