By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — At age 67, David Peter Sleeper, Sr. finally has his high school diploma, but apropos of his experience with the educational system, there's a problem.
The document from Laconia Academy, an adult evening high school diploma program, refers to him as David Peter Sleeper Jr.
Sleeper, one of six graduates from the program this year, ran into problems going through school the first time.
“When I was in junior high, I got caught smoking,” he recalled. “My grades weren't great anyway, and then they caught me smoking on school grounds at the end of the year. They decided to suspend me for two weeks, which killed my chance of passing my grade.”
After getting held back a grade because of that debacle, another problem surfaced a few years later. As a high school senior, he discovered he was a couple courses short of the requirements needed to graduate. At that point, he was fed up with school and decided to begin his work life and forget about a diploma.
He made a success of himself, running his own remodeling business, getting married and starting a family. He's now been married for 42 years. His children are 33, 36 and 39. He quit smoking in 1986.
But through it all, something was missing.
“I always wanted to finish the high school education I missed out on,” said Sleeper, who now is employed by a company that installs countertops. “I found it pretty profound not to have a high school diploma. Society teaches us to seek an education.”
He only needed to pass a math class and an English course to complete his high school diploma, so he decided to do that by taking night courses at the Laconia Academy, which are held at Laconia High School.
He was the oldest student in his class.
Sleeper noticed that, not unlike the earlier version of himself, some of the younger students lacked a certain focus.
“They are on a different wavelength,” he said.
“It seems like they are not studying to the fullest extent, and I guess when I think back on how I was in my high school days, you more or less do what you have to do and nothing more. I passed most of my courses without opening a book.”
He has plans for his diploma.
“If I ever get the right one, I will frame it,” he said. “I brought to their attention they put a junior after my name instead of a senior. My son is David P. Sleeper Jr., and he's already got his Master's degree.”
While Sleeper's return to school finished an experience begun decades ago, the travails of high school are much more fresh for Elisia Jean Civiello, another member of this year's Laconia Academy graduating class.
Civiello, 22, a mother of two, said she dropped out of high school after she became pregnant with her first child and bullies targeted her for harassment.
“I really don't care whatever people say, but what made me end up dropping out was a verbal fight with one of the girls that ended with me being pushed down stairs,” she said.
“I always really loved school, but I had trouble with people not being understanding of me being pregnant.”
She said her husband encouraged her to get her diploma.
“He saw how miserable I was in everyday life,” she said. “He wanted me to find something to be happy about every day.”
She hopes that having a high school diploma will allow her to realize goals of a meaningful job, perhaps in the culinary arts.
“I like baking,” she said. “I think it would be cool to do weddings.”
While going to night classes, she worked two jobs. It wasn't easy, and she offered some advice to today's high school students.
“I urge all the little ones to stay in school,” Civiello said.
Chris Ennis, the director of adult education for Laconia schools, said Civiello and Sleeper point up the fact that there is no typical Laconia Academy student.
He also said attendance numbers vary with the economy.
”When unemployment rates are low, our enrollment is low,” he said. “When people can't find jobs, they tend to go to school.”
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