Sometimes, life gets in the way of a high school diploma.
For Dan Porch, it was when his girlfriend, now his wife, became pregnant with twins and he dropped out of Oliver High School to support her in 1993.
For Nate Bashioum, it was when he became so frustrated by his learning disability he dropped out of Baldwin High School 13 years ago.
And for Robert McCune, who bounced around different high schools, it was because he found good work in the film business -- 60 years ago.
Now, though, they have all either earned their GED, or are studying for it at the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, but their paths to that destination have been very different.
For Mr. Porch, 37, it took 20 years for him to summon up the nerve to go to GED classes.
After dropping out of high school, he always found work and was frequently promoted, until finally he had a salaried position at a CVS call center.
"That really upped the ante and made things real for me," he said. "I realized that I needed a job with that kind of stability so I could take care of my kids."
But when CVS merged with Caremark RX in 2007, operations were consolidated, and he realized "that my options for advancement had ceased at that point. There was just nowhere else for me to go in the company without any kind of degree."
So in August, he walked through the doors of the literacy council and did what he'd put off doing for years.
"I waited a long time to get my GED, because I didn't want anyone to know I didn't have my diploma. The way our society is, they look down on people who can't read and write."
His expectations, he said, "were that I would see a bunch of adults treating another bunch of adults poorly. I dreaded walking through the door and I was waiting to be talked down to."
He was shocked, he said, "because they treated me as an adult, as just someone who needed some help. And always, their message was: Don't give up."
After earning his GED in November, Mr. Porch went on to Community College of Allegheny County, where he is earning a double major in nursing and therapy. He has a job lined up at Mercy Hospital and plans to take more preparatory classes at CCAC so he can eventually transfer to the University of Pittsburgh to finish college.
Nate Bashioum's route to the GED was more circuitous.
Diagnosed with a learning disability as a child, the 30-year-old Downtown resident found high school hard and felt he wasn't learning anything, so he dropped out just before entering 10th grade.
Not long afterward, he went to the Literacy Council for instruction, and despite what he described as caring tutors -- "every single one of them was great and were behind me" -- he dropped out again, for two years.
He was working at Monte Cello's Pizza Downtown, however, "and I kept running into my teachers on the street, and they'd ask me if I was going to come back. It took me two years to get into focus and tell myself I could do it."
So he went back.
All in all, eight years of chipping away at it, stopping and starting, giving up one day in frustration only to go back the next day, eventually led to him passing the GED exam.
It will be three years ago tomorrow -- a date he will always remember.
"When I got the test results, I lost my mind for a little bit," Mr. Bashioum said.
At CCAC, he encountered more obstacles. He dreamed of becoming a pilot but because of his learning disability, he has had to switch majors, now focusing on the business world.
He still works at Monte Cello's, a place that's "like family, but me and my girlfriend want to make something of ourselves in life. I've come from being absolutely nothing to 'someday I will be ... something.' "
Jerry McCune of Braddock Hills just got his GED two weeks ago.
"It's on my back for 65 years," he said. "My sons prodded me, 'Why don't you do it?' and when I retired I thought about it but didn't get around it until last year."
Mr. McCune isn't illiterate. As a child growing up in Homewood, he quit three high schools, but lucked out and got a job at a film processing company, which led to a long career at WTAE as a film technician.
In those days, "if you were doing a good job, they didn't ask to see your high school diploma. If they asked, I'd say, 'yes, I went to high school,' and that was that."
When he finally started GED classes a year ago, he found it was tougher than he'd expected. "Math was daunting, and I got discouraged, but they kept at it and got me a special tutor and in the end I turned out to be pretty proficient."
As a graduation gift in April, someone gave him the Princeton Review book "Cracking the GED."
"It's like a telephone book," he said, adding that he donated it to his local library.
The experience was exhilarating, "and now I've settled down a bit. But boy, I did a lot of studying. It was kind of tough on the body, but worth it."
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1949; On Twitter @MackenziePG.