August 7, 2009
Senior student receives diploma
87-year-old Cortland woman spent 104 hours in classroom working on her GED
Rose Rosato sat in front of a table, hovering over a math workbook and a notebook. Her lips moved silently as she figured out math problems and wrote the answers into the workbook using a black pencil.
For the 87-year-old Cortland resident, who has spent 104 hours taking a general education degree class at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES this year, it was just an ordinary day of class.
She had no idea that she was about to receive her honorary high school diploma.
While Rosato and her classmates did the exercise Thursday morning during class at the McEvoy Center, located on Route 13 in Cortlandville, Rosato’s family members and a few teachers were waiting for her in the classroom next door.
Rosato and her classmates were brought into the room, where a white board had “Congratulations Rose” written in large letters. She looked at her family members and stood silently with her hands on her hips.
Her daughter and son-in-law had traveled to Cortland from Robinsville, N.J., to celebrate with Rosato.
“What are you two doing here?” she asked them.
Rosato’s teacher told her that it was her graduation day and gave her a black cap and gown to wear.
Rosato attended the Lyncourt Union Free School District in Syracuse when it had students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Like many girls at the time, she dropped out of school to work after eighth grade.
Lyncourt now only has students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
But Superintendent of Schools Michael Schiedo agreed to give Rosato an honorary high school diploma after Rosato’s GED teacher, Lori Pallone, contacted the district.
“So, Rose, for your courage and inspiration, this is presented to you from Lyncourt High School,” said Pallone, handing Rosato the diploma.
“What did you do this for?” Rosato asked.
“Because you earned it, Rose. You worked so hard every day in class,” Pallone said.
After she was handed a bouquet of flowers, a balloon and a piece of cake, Rosato sat in a chair next to her husband, Albert Rosato, to whom she has been married for 68 years.
They held hands and kissed while a few family members took photographs of them.
“It was fun, and I learned a lot,” Rosato said of the class.
Earlier this year, Rosato learned of the free GED class in a booklet advertising classes at OCM BOCES and decided to try it.
Since February, she has attended the class Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every week. She has studied reading, writing, math, social studies and science.
Rosato said she enjoyed every subject, but had difficulty solving math problems involving fractions.
Pallone said Rosato would often ask if she could take assignments home to continue working on them.
Rosato’s daughter, Margaret, who talks to her mother on the phone every day, said taking the class has helped her immensely over the past few months.
“It’s helped her in her thinking ... She’s just a lot more alert than she used to be,” Margaret Rosato said. “And she loves coming here.”
Mebelo Tyson, 50, a Cortland resident who is taking the GED class and planning to enroll in the nursing program at BOCES, said she enjoyed having Rosato in the class.
“She’s an inspiring old lady,” Tyson said.
Tyson, who is a qualified nurse in her home country of Zambia but needs to be certified to work as a nurse in the United States, said Rose gave advice to young students in the class when they were misbehaving.
“She told them, ‘You have to get your GED because education is important,’” Tyson said.
Rosato dropped out of school during the Great Depression. Her parents had nine children. Rosato said she wanted to make money so that her parents would not have to pay for her.
“I liked school, but money was very scarce ... I shouldn’t have quit school, but I did,” she said.
Rosato found jobs as a housekeeper for families in Lyncourt, a worker in the dining hall at St. Mary’s Hospital in Syracuse and a coffee-cup inspector at Syracuse China.
After marrying Albert Rosato, she moved to Cortland, where she worked at Crescent Corset for 37 years before retiring at 63.
Rosato surprised her son, Carl Rosato, who lives in Preble, by finishing the class.
“She went to class and succeeded in getting exactly what she wanted. I never thought she would finish it,” he said.
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