CUYAHOGA FALLS – Before his 12-year-old daughter died of brain cancer in 2011, Douglas Kirchner made a promise to her that he would finish his high school education.
Skyler Kirchner would be even prouder of her father today.
Kirchner, 41, of Cuyahoga Falls, not only passed his General Educational Development test in July 2012, but on Dec. 16 will become the first member of his family to graduate from college, receiving his degree from Kent State University in applied conflict management with a minor in criminal justice.
“We were talking and she asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up,” Kirchner said. “I told her I was grown up, but I never graduated from high school.”
Kirchner dropped out of Valley Forge High School in Parma in the ninth grade after struggling and failing through most of his elementary school years because of undiagnosed dyslexia. He married, had daughter Skyler and worked to pay the bills.
The promise to Skyler motivated him, he said, but he still had his demons.
“What if I'm not smart enough?” he said. “What if I'm a failure again?”
His second wife, Katie, and their three sons, Ian, Mason and Eli, also supported his decision to get his GED, which he ultimately did through night classes at the Summit County Means Jobs Center and the help of Project Learn of Summit County.
“College was a whole other ballgame,” Kirchner said.
Kirchner attended week-long placement program for the Kent State Scholars Initiative for GED students, and was accepted.
“I was signed up and didn't know it,” he said. “I couldn't say no. By that time, I was 23 years out of the classroom.”
Somehow, Kirchner made the time to take 15 to 18 credit hours and work 40 to 80 hours a week.
The Scholars Initiative staff at KSU was available to provide help — but Kirchner never needed it.
“Oddly enough, I didn't need help,” Kirchner said. “That was a surprise to me.”
Kirchner is the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“My dad thought I was crazy,” Kirchner said. “I was 40 years old with a wife and three sons. I didn't have the time. When I got into a groove and figured out how to do time management, it worked.”
Kirchner now works at SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc., which was hired by various VIPs for the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
“I was Ben Carson’s bodyguard at the convention,” he said.
He served as a youth leader in a treatment center at the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System in Canton, one of his favorite jobs.
“My dream is to get into the juvenile justice system through becoming a probation officer, case worker or social worker and work with juveniles,” Kirchner said. “I want to be a voice to help kids.”
Kirchner offered sage advice to others who think they may be too old to return to school.
“No matter where you are in life, you have to make a choice to either change it or don't,” he said. “The death of my daughter was the kick in the gut I needed to change. But in today's world, it's getting increasingly harder to find jobs without a college degree, let alone without a GED. You have to want the change, you have to do it for you.”
And sometimes, maybe one other inspiring young lady.
For more information about Project Learn of Summit County, go to www.projectlearnsummit.org and info on Kent State GED Scholars Initiative, go to www.cs.kent.edu/~vkromhou/TG/update/GEDSI.html.