Jason Plyler is 19 years old, owns a four-bedroom house in Lansdowne and plans to become a police officer when he turns 21.
Not bad for a high school dropout.
Plyler quit Park View High School two years ago when he learned he was going to become a father. Until then, he said he had every intention of graduating with the rest of his class and going to college. He made mostly A's and B's.
"I knew I had to support him," he said. "So I started working full-time."
Plyler had been working part-time at Babies R Us, so he continued to work there and Koon's Sterling Ford for four months. Eventually, he focused all of his time and energy on the car dealership, working first as a mechanic and moving onto parts sales. His rent was low, he worked a lot of overtime and saved every dollar he could to buy a house.
Everyone kept encouraging him to get his GED (General Education Development) certificate, and he thought he had better take the test before he forget what he had learned midway through his junior year.
"However, I think the most important reason I made this decision was my son Derek," he recalled. "I wanted to do my best for him. I knew taking the (GED) test was a step toward accomplishing that goal."
LAST WEEK, Plyler donned cap and gown with 26 other students and celebrated a belated graduation. He was the guest speaker at the first Adult High School and GED Graduation Ceremony held in Loudoun County. "It's pretty cool that they had something for us," he said. "I wanted to graduate with my class and everything. I was disappointed I was not going to be able to do that."
Plyler would have received his diploma in 2003.
Irene Riordan, coordinator of adult education, said she was impressed with Plyler and the other students who went the extra mile to get their certificates. Five adults who were shy of a few credits to obtain a diploma spent a year making up the work and received diplomas. A total of 156 people earned their GED certificates, between May 2003 and March 2004. Only a fraction attended the ceremony.
"We've been talking about having a graduation ceremony for awhile," she said. "It was the right time. This is a group that doesn't get recognized.
"It's important for everyone to get recognition."
Riordan said similar graduations are held in Fairfax and Prince William counties.
"They do it for themselves. Or they want their children to know they did it. Sometimes it's for a career," she said.
The hardest part is overcoming the fear. "They've been out of school for awhile," she said. "They have to take a test and this is not an easy test at all. They have to be driven."
Emotions ran high at the ceremony last Friday, she said. "One of the nicest things about the group was the fact that so many of them talked about the support they got from their families," she said.
Riordan said the occasion was touching. "It was amazing," she said. "This, to them, was a big deal. This was much more moving than your typical graduation."
DURING HIS SPEECH, Plyler encouraged others to get their certificate. "Even if you drop out of school, you can still be a success," he said.
He decided last year to pursue a police cadet job at the Fairfax County Police Department. He learned there would be no opening until February. "By then, I received a good raise and things were pretty steady," he said. "I'd like to stay here for now, take some classes in criminal justice and become a police officer later on."
Joseph Hughs Jr., the Fairfax polygraph supervisor, told Plyler that the department usually hires a high school graduate over someone with a GED. "Since I had a good excuse, having a son and everything, and I had to support him, he said he would take me in," Plyler said.
Why a police officer? "I really don't know," he said. "No one in my family is in that field. I've always had an interest, and I like helping people and stuff like that."
Plyler, who has joint custody of his son Derek, said he realizes taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College will make him a stronger candidate for the police officer position. "I know if I continue my education, I will be better prepared for my future," he said. "I will continue to set an example for my son."
Riordan asked him to be the graduation speaker, because she wanted a success story. Plyler said he had only been to one graduation and hadn't really paid attention to the speaker. He didn't know what he would say.
As he reviewed his speech the night before, he read, "My name is Jason, and I have a 2-year-old. I was living a regular life until I found out I was going to be a Dad."
He said he and his girlfriend had talked about adoption and abortion. "I was a little scared, being 17 and about to have a son," he said. "I'm glad we decided to keep the baby, because I love him with all of my heart."
Plyler's Mom, Dawn Runion, said having Derek took precedence over everything. "He did the right thing," she said of her son.
She never doubted Jason would get his GED. "We're very proud of him in everything he has done, what a good father he is, how hard he works," she said. "He's a very respectful, nice person. Everyone just loves Jason. He's just a great kid.
Rubbing her fingers through his hair, she smiled. "I guess he's not a kid anymore."