The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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June 4, 2009

GED recipient moves audience

60-year-old had long road

MANKATO — Jul Engelby had 60 years to write his graduation speech.

Apparently, his time was well spent.

During last week’s graduation ceremony for those earning GEDs through Mankato Area Public Schools’ adult basic education program, Engelby was chosen to give a keynote address.

Chosen because the gregarious school bus driver had charmed his classmates with spry wit and youthful determination. Chosen because Engelby’s speech may never have been written at all without the help of a granddaughter who encouraged him to join her in GED class. Chosen because the story of this lifelong Mankato resident represents the very core mission of Mankato schools:

To develop lifelong learners.

When Engelby was chosen to give last week’s graduation address, folks had a hunch his words would inspire. But no one predicted this:

“It was the first time a student speaker ever received a standing ovation,” said Marilyn Solberg, a GED teacher in Mankato for the better part of three decades. “It was the most fun graduation we’ve ever had.”

But when Engelby finally began putting his graduation speech on paper last week, he was unsatisfied with the result.

“It was too much about me,” Engelby said.

Too much about the mysterious growth on a lower vertebrae that prompted a string of surgeries beginning at 16 years old. Too much about the listless days at school after the surgeries, behind in his homework and down on his luck. Too much about the lifetime of pain, the label of disabled by age 30, the regret and disappointment of never finishing school.

So Engelby trashed it and started over.

He wrote about the granddaughter, Kylie Engelby, who gave him the courage to face a challenge. He wrote about his longtime partner, Barb, whose abiding belief in his abilities kept him motivated. He wrote about the part-time job he found five years ago as a school bus driver; and three particular mothers whose children were on his route and encouraged him to return to school.

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