Interview with a Career Online High School Graduate - Willie Howard

Randall Hinson, Librarian, Office of Education and Literacy,
Willie Howard and woman at Career Online High School graduation ceremony

On March 14, 2018 Willie Howard graduated from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Career Online High School program. Born and raised in Los Angeles and the oldest of 6 children, Willie has been a patron of the Central Library for many years. LAPL has played a prominent role at different stages of his life from being his shelter during the day when he was homeless to being his classroom when working toward his high school diploma. Willie’s efforts and perseverance prove that it is never too late to continue your education.

Willie, tell me a little bit about yourself. What did you do before starting COHS?

My name is Willie Howard Jr. All my schooling has been in Los Angeles, went to Manual Arts High School for a very brief period. I got married in ‘89 and stayed with my wife for 18 years, but now we’re separated. Then I ended up homeless for five years, but I always pictured myself going back to school, finishing my high school diploma, and I did it. Now my goal is to increase my education by going to college. Right now, I am a tour guide for students at the shelter I lived in when I was homeless.

What was the hardest part of getting started with COHS?

When I started, I was ready to start, but the algebra was the most difficult part and also science. I got books from the library and worked with walk-in tutors occasionally. Livingston (a Singleton Adult Literacy Center staff member) also helped me a lot with math.

How has COHS prepared you for your next goal?

It helped me a lot. It let me know that I can do it. The lessons in COHS were different from the ones when I was going to school back in the day, much different. The material is nowhere near what I was being taught before. Things have changed.

When you completed your last COHS course, what was the first thing that came to your mind?

I did it! I did it! I pushed that submit button and it said “80”. I looked at Livingston and said, I’m done. He came over and he said, “How do you feel?” And I said, “I’m going to cry” and I got up and went to cry. I did it, I did it. People would ask me, what are you going to do when you’re finished and I would say, “I’m going to cry”. But, when I actually pressed that last button - God, it was the best feeling in the world, the greatest. It took years to get there, but it was definitely worth it.

There was a reason I ended up at this library (Central). When I was homeless, I slept right outside of this library. I have always felt comfortable here. Some people call what I did dumpster diving—I call it recycling, hustling. This library was where I would come. I would go to the Art Department and do some reading and drawing, and when we had our graduation ceremony, I never imagined that on that same floor I would be graduating. I walk these hallways like they are my high school. This is my high school. This is where I graduated from. Class of 2018, Central Library. Mr. Howard.

To the people at Singleton, thank you very much. Every time I came, you guys always gave me respect and I thank you guys for giving me the motivation I needed to continue. I looked forward to coming here and when I had a problem with something all I had to do was get up from the computer, walk up to the front and get help. Thank you!

Would you recommend COHS to anyone?

Yes. When I first started, it was hard, but that’s how everything is. No matter where you go or what you do, there will be challenges. But when we graduated, it was all worth it. The celebration and the attention we received, I don’t think I would have gotten that in high school if I would have finished back then. We were treated like royalty. Very cool. The library and its staff, of course, I would recommend it to anybody. The library was my home and also my school.

Do you have any advice for current and future COHS students?

To anybody that wants to do this, it can be done. If you have a favorite quote or a favorite saying, use it as your password, because when you type that every day you become committed to that phrase. Be diligent, be consistent, and to hell with those who don’t believe in you. You just need to believe in yourself and there is nothing you can’t do.

What are your next steps?

My next step is to enroll at Trade Tech Community College. Take some tailoring courses and also photography. I love art and I would love to have a degree in art.

Anything else you would like to share?

Thank you guys for doing this and if I can ever help out, let me know because like I said, if it wasn’t for the library having this program, I don’t know how I would have done it. And now, there is no stopping me.