BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Stories like Patricia Adams-Mauldin's are among the reasons Donna Dukes founded her Maranathan Academy in Birmingham more than 20 years ago.
When Adams-Mauldin attended a friend's graduation she had no idea that the day would also become the first toward her own path to success. She was in the audience when the words from the private school's principal resonated long after the ceremony had ended.
"I went to the graduation twice, and during the last one she encouraged the adults there that if they didn't have their high school diploma it was not too late," she recalled Dukes saying from the stage.
At 43, Adams-Mauldin had spent her time as a wife, mother and grandmother, working to support her family, but not giving much thought to the task she left unfinished decades earlier.
But this month it was Adams-Mauldin who walked across the stage to cheering friends and family, a diploma finally clutched in her hand.
Reaching more students like Adams-Mauldin are part of new efforts by Dukes to reach adults well past school age who lack a diploma.
While the school has always had a mix of school-aged and nontraditional students, Dukes said she sees a growing need for outreach to older students who have already begun their lives but are stymied without a high school diploma.
"She seemed to relish and enjoy the whole idea of going back to school. Mrs. Adams-Mauldin is just the epitome of the adults we love to work with," Dukes said. "The enthusiasm she has shown is just inspirational."
The school is located in a small white house in the Kingston neighborhood where only a tiny white sign tacked on the porch gives a hint of what goes on inside.
The alternative private school specializes in giving at-risk children a second chance as well as nontraditional students, including adults. Students who can pay tuition pay, while private donations and fundraisers cover those who need assistance.
Adams-Mauldin's high school path to graduation took a detour in 1986 when her mother died. She was in 11th grade at Carver High School.
"When she died, I basically gave up," Adams-Mauldin recalled during a visit to the school. "When I was taking the tests, it just wasn't there."
Adams-Mauldin married, had a family and worked in fast food. She knew something was missing, a void that was highlighted at that graduation ceremony.
"I knew I could do better," she said. "I want to own my own business. I want to be a chef."
Adams-Mauldin balanced family, work and studying with her family support. Just as she had cheered for others nearing graduation, this was her turn.
At Maranathan Academy, Adams-Mauldin could keep working full time, while completing most of her school assignments at home.
"I just asked God to give me the strength where I was able to do my work and take care of my family," she said.
Adams-Mauldin now plans to begin culinary school.
"Everything happens for a reason. If there's anybody out there who hasn't gotten their education, they need to do like I did," Adams-Mauldin said. "The young folks and the younger people -- if I can do it I know they can, too."