Beechview woman earns high school diploma 47 years after dropping out
Bonita Guesman is living proof that it’s never too late to go back to school.
The 63-year-old Beechview resident can, at long last, say she’s a high school graduate.
“I’m glad I did it,” Guesman said.
She earned a high school diploma from the Career Online High School as she worked part time at the Beechview McDonald’s, where store owner Twila Mezan encouraged her to work on the diploma through McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program.
Her McDonald’s co-workers surprised her with a party to celebrate last week, and Guesman plans to start classes at Community College of Allegheny County in the fall. She’ll be studying history.
“I’ll be in college when I’m 64,” Guesman said. “It still feels a little surreal. But there’s more to come.”
It was Guesman’s second try at finally earning a high school diploma after she left high school in 1972 during her junior year.
Dropping out was a tough decision, but she made it to help support her family. Guesman’s father died when she was 12, and her mother was tasked with raising four children on her own.
Bonita was the eldest and her mom told her, “I need help,” Guesman said.
“It was my choice to go to work. I chose to go to work and support the family,” she said.
After that, the obligations of adult life took over and Guesman never needed a high school diploma, although not having one always haunted her.
“It was always in the back of my mind. It was a nagging thorn in my side,” Guesman said.
She graduated from business school with a 3.6 grade point average and worked as a paralegal, a job she did for 28 years.
“I was never asked for a high school diploma,” she said.
Guesman then worked as a tax assistant for Bank of America for eight years before she was laid off. At that point, Guesman faced struggles because she wasn’t a high school graduate. Times had changed, the job application process was different, and Guesman lost out on jobs because she didn’t have a high school diploma.
In 2015, Guesman was part of a Tribune-Review story that detailed the plight of people like her. At the time, she was enrolled in a general education diploma program that she ended up not completing.
She worked part-time jobs at places including McDonald’s and, in 2017, she “semi-retired.”
Last year, the opportunity with the Archways program presented itself and Guesman pursued it. Career Online High School offered her a personal academic coach, which made the coursework easier, and, now, she’s happy with the results, she said.
“I jumped on it, and everything worked out,” Guesman said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .