In 1964, in the rural country of Micro, NC, a young man named Charles Pulley was forced to fill some very big shoes when his father’s health deteriorated to the point of no longer being able to maintain the family farm. At seventeen, he left school and went to work on the farm. He met a girl at a dance, fell in love, and married her. If he had any hope of returning to school, that hope ended when he got married. Within a year, he was a father. Over the next eleven years, they would have two more children.
Charles did not regret his choices. He loves and lives for his family; he is a family man. Still, he regrets that his sacrifice was not enough to save the farm. By 1965, he was forced to sell it. The farm had been in his family for generations.
Charles divorced and remarried in the 1970s. He lights up when he talks about his second wife, Kathy, and the 42 happy years they have had together. Charles is happiest with his family; he has lived a full life with them. He worked in construction for over 50 years building bridges. Though he was a superintendent most of those years, he got involved with all aspects of the job. “You always got to jump in and help,” he says, “you can’t just sit around.” He was good with his hands and good with math; he was proud of the work he could do.
As his family grew, Charles grew more ashamed of his education. He had six grandchildren, and he didn’t want to tell them that he didn’t finish school.
“I want my grandkids to finish school and be the best that they can be,” he said, “and I don’t want to be the only one in my family without a high school education.”
Working and taking care of his family, Charles never really had the chance to come back and finish his high school education. When he started summer classes at Wayne Community College in 2018, he realized that it was harder than it used to be. Though he had designed and built bridges and managed job sites for half a century, he was dumbfounded by the math needed to complete the High School Equivalency test.
“I thought of dropping out,” he said, “but I told myself that I am not a quitter. I have never been a quitter, and I’m not gonna start being one now.”
Instead of quitting, Charles jumped in and committed himself to learning as quickly as he could. He attended night classes faithfully and absorbed material like a sponge. When he wasn’t picking up the math as quickly as it was being taught, he took it to his granddaughter and had her help him. Within a month–faster than most students half his age–Charles completed his High School Equivalency degree. On a test that requires a minimum scaled score of 45 to complete it, he scored 63. He didn’t just finish his degree, he finished with excellence.
Charles advises his peers to try harder and keep pushing towards completing their educational goals.
“Education is one of the main things in life,” he says, “Ignorance is an uneducated person.”
Charles is looking forward to the graduation ceremony in May 2019. He is on the church board at his church and has a lot of friends who want to be here to see him walk. “I like that,” he smiles, “I think that will be fun.”
Charles looks forward to sharing his story with his grandkids and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.