At 68 years old, Paul Reggie Bryant can finally call himself a high school graduate. On June 10, Bryant was one of 26 students to graduate from Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School with a high school diploma.

“I used to always hear the saying ‘You’re never too old,’” said Bryant, who delivered an emotional speech at the graduation. “Of course, I never believed it. But through hard work and perseverance, I did it!”

Paul Reggie Byrant stands on the podium during his graduation from Academy of Hope. He earned his high-school diploma at the age of 68 on June 10. (Courtesy photo)

The school, headquartered in Ward 5, educates 350 adults with low literacy skills every year. Besides learning how to read, the students also earn high school diplomas and obtain job-related skills. The academy operates a location in Ward 8 on Alabama Avenue, SE.

Academy of Hope was founded in 1985 and has been functioning as a charter school since 2014. Unlike traditional schools, there aren’t classes — students learn at their own pace.

Bryant, a resident of D.C., dropped out of Bethune Junior High School in Capitol Heights, Md., in the eighth grade after teachers and students teased him because he couldn’t read. He suffers from dyslexia and said his teachers back then did not know how to help him overcome it.

Bryant became addicted to heroin after he dropped out of school and has served several brief stints in prison as a result of his addiction. He finally kicked the habit 10 years ago after being addicted for 40 years.

Realizing he would need a high school diploma to become a certified addiction counselor, Bryant enrolled in Academy of Hope. The grandfather was reading at a third-grade level when he arrived at the center in 2014. Now that he’s earned his high school diploma, Bryant said he hopes to continue his education to realize his dream.

“To anyone who is sitting out there and think it’s impossible, believe me it’s not,” Bryant said. “I’m living proof. If a guy like me from the world I come from can turn his life around and become a productive member of society, anyone can.”

In related news, the D.C. Council on June 13 approved the 2018 fiscal year budget to includes $1.9 million that would assist adult learners.

The money is designated to help District students over the age of 22 use Metro to attend class in a publicly funded adult education program by offering fare exemptions or reduced fares.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduced the amendment to the budget after hearing from adult learners, including many at Academy of Hope, who testified that they couldn’t afford to spend their limited income on the Metro.

“Transportation impacts attendance, so we have to keep in mind a lot of adult learners are on the low end of our income scale and they have families to feed,” Silverman told the AFRO. “And sometimes they put themselves last. What we’re doing with this subsidy is having them put their opportunity first.”