Luis Moctezuma, who was a Perrysburg senior in 2005 and now is an Owens Community College student, says receiving his high school diploma last month 'was better than being in the actual graduation.'
Luis Moctezuma's graduation ceremony was on a random Tuesday in February.
The lone graduate didn't wear a cap and gown during a simple event in a Perrysburg school cafeteria, a ceremony without the hoopla and the tradition of a typical high school commencement.
But for Mr. Moctezuma, 25, getting his diploma probably meant more than to most. His graduation ceremony was a day seven years in the making.
"It was amazing. It was better than being in the actual graduation," he said. "I worked so hard for that."
In 2005, Mr. Moctezuma was a senior at Perrysburg High School.
He wasn't the strongest student.
Math was his nemesis -- "That's been my downfall forever," Mr. Moctezuma said -- and at times, he struggled with English as a second language.
His family had moved to Ohio in 2001 from Puerto Rico when his father, a laboratory manager, transferred to the BP-Husky Oil Toledo refinery in Oregon.
The high school student had the necessary credits to graduate with his classmates. The only thing he needed to do was pass the math portion of the Ohio Graduation Exam to get his diploma.
In his senior year, he took the test three times, failing each time.
When his classmates walked without him, Mr. Moctezuma said it didn't bother him as much as it did his parents.
When Mr. Moctezuma's father graduated from high school, years ago, his own father missed the ceremony because he was on a business trip. "I promised myself I was never going to miss one of my kids' graduations," said Mr. Moctezuma's father, also named Luis. "It was very tough for me. It was very emotional" not seeing his son graduate with his class.
After high school, the younger Mr. Moctezuma, started work as a deejay in Toledo and Detroit clubs on weekends and worked construction for an excavating company.
But he also didn't give up.
Over the course of the next few years, Mr. Moctezuma returned to his old high school and retook the math test nearly 10 times. He didn't want a GED because he already completed the necessary class credits to graduate, he said.
Friends and family members, including his father, sat down and tutored him.
Still, Mr. Moctezuma sometimes fell short by only two or four points from the necessary 400-point score to pass.
Getting the diploma also mattered more after Mr. Moctezuma became a father to Ilianah -- now, an energetic 4-year-old with long dark hair who loves to dance.
In a down economy, it was hard enough for a college graduate to find a job, let alone someone without a high school diploma.
"I needed something secure. I needed to provide for my family," Mr. Moctezuma said. "That was my biggest inspiration to pass this time."
In October, he took the test again.
A month later, he was standing in line at a fast-food restaurant with his daughter when he saw the familiar number of Perrysburg High School on his cell phone.
"Are you ready?" said the voice on the other end of the line, David Boyce, Perrysburg High School assistant principal. "You passed. Congratulations."
Mr. Boyce said that in his nine years administering the exam, he had never seen another student take the test as many times as Mr. Moc- tezuma, which he said was a testament to his perseverance. "He realized that he needed that piece of paper," Mr. Boyce said. "A lot of kids could have easily stopped. … For this guy to keep coming back time again, he had a goal. To see someone stick with that, I'm just incredibly impressed."
During a Feb. 20 school board meeting, Mr. Moctezuma, now a first-year student at Owens Community College, received his official diploma. He gave it to his parents to hang in their Perrysburg home.
The moment was not lost on his father, whose family also includes his wife, Carmen, and daughter Dinellys, 19."For me, that was something I would like to have all my life and finally I get it in a different way," he said about finally seeing his son graduate.
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6026.