York native Nancy Brown may wear a cap and gown like any high school graduate, but her road to a diploma does not mirror that of most.
Brown, 59, has for years been a mother, a cook and a Christian. Now, she is also a high school graduate.
On June 24, Brown will celebrate earning her diploma from Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School, a Georgia-based ministry that aids people seeking their high school diplomas.
“I’m just so proud,” she said.
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Diplomas issued through the Cornerstone ministry may not be accepted everywhere. Cornerstone is accredited through Accrediting Commission International, or ACI, according to the organization. ACI is a non-governmental international accrediting commission that works with private schools. ACI states that not all accreditation is the same and that ACI does not guarantee schools or industries that are not ACI members will accept credits.
Cornerstone does not appear to meet the criteria for an accredited program that can issue a South Carolina high school diploma, said Ryan Brown, spokesman with the S.C. Department of Education. “Only accredited public high schools may issue South Carolina high school diplomas,” Brown said. “Adult education programs can also issue South Carolina high school diplomas through accredited public high schools. This organization does not seem to meet either of those criteria.”
Brown had 14 siblings growing up, two of whom graduated from high school.
“The rest of us, we dropped out and got jobs,” she said. “I never thought about it until I had a family of my own – that I needed to go back to school.”
I never thought about it until I had a family of my own - that I needed to go back to school.
Brown tried night school when she was younger, but dropped out to raise her oldest son. After that, Brown tried multiple times to get her education without success.
“I just gave up,” she said.
When Brown’s oldest son was set to graduate from high school, she promised she would be right beside him.
Illness got in the way.
A diagnosis of lupus in 1999 led to years of hospitalizations and medications that pushed the idea of school far from Brown’s mind. She had nine surgeries on her legs and later battled lymph node cancer.
“Each year, I was sicker and sicker,” Brown said. “I didn’t think I was going to be here. I thank God (that I am).”
As her health improved and Brown saw her second son, Sebastian Brown, graduate from high school and college, she said it renewed her desire to finish her education.
“I’m determined to ... do what I can to motivate other people,” she said.
Brown applied to Cornerstone and passed the required exams to earn her diploma.
Brown said she was shocked that she could do well on the tests after being out of school for decades.
“A lot of it came easy to me,” she said. “It just came like I was sitting in the classroom. I didn’t think I could do it at first but (my son) gave me motivation.”
Brown said her family has been her support system.
“I love my family,” she said. “We’re a team. Everybody has ups and downs, but through our ups and downs we stick with each other.”
With a diploma under her belt, Brown wants to turn a passion into a career. She wants to go to culinary school to learn to decorate cakes and eventually open her own restaurant.
“She’s been cooking for so many people for so many years,” Sebastian said. “Even through all of her health challenges, she would still try to find her way to the kitchen and cook something. That’s her gift.”
Brown has also worked to be where she wants in her church. She serves as a Deaconess of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Zion Church in Hickory Grove.
On May 27, Brown became a member of Order of the Eastern Star, a social order made up of both men and women with spiritual values. It is the largest fraternal organization in the world and focuses on charitable, educational and scientific purposes, according to the group.
Brown said the organization provides scholarships to help students go to college and gives back in many ways. She is a member of the White Hill Chapter number 350.
“2017 is her year,” Sebastian said.