Skip to main content Skip to site utility navigation Skip to main site navigation Skip to site search Skip to footer

NSCC student pursues high school diploma and passion for baking

NSCC grad Donna Johnson wears a blouse and jeans and sits on porch stairs while taking part in an online meeting on her open laptop.

Even after more than 27 years working with the RCMP, Donna Johnson wasn't ready to settle into retirement. Instead, she pursued a life-long dream of getting her high school diploma and is now baking up an exciting future. 

Putting her dreams on hold

Donna wasn't able to complete high school due to struggles with math and wasn't sure what her future would hold. She chose to attend vocational school and complete a clerk typist course. It helped her get into the workforce quickly, but in the years that followed, she often thought about earning her high school diploma.

“All my life I wanted to get my grade 12, but because of family, everything going on in my home with children and grandchildren (my children have physical challenges, as does one of my grandchildren) and working full time, I didn’t think it was achievable,” Donna explained.

A new challenge

In the fall of 2022, with retirement just months away, Donna made the call she’d been waiting years to make. She reached out to NSCC to find out if a program existed that would help her earn her high school diploma as an adult. Student Services told her about the Adult Learning Program (ALP) and what she needed to do to enrol. Donna was pleased to hear about the $0 tuition program, but anxious that she’d have a heavy course load. To her delight, that wasn’t the case.

“When NSCC went through everything – all my marks from high school and vocational school – I found out that I could easily achieve my grade 12. I was so happy!”

Making it work

Donna began ALP in January of 2023. Balancing work, family life and assignments wasn’t easy, but she persevered.

“The ALP course I took was completely online. I did it from home on my laptop. I’m not a computer person – I’ve used computers my whole life for work, but it’s not the same as learning online. I was stressed out at first, but Student Services, my teacher and my family helped me out.”

Learning from home required flexibility, says Donna.

“The interruptions at home were sometimes a challenge, so I adjusted my time and started staying up later to complete my schoolwork because that’s when things were quiet. I just felt like this was something I had to do, no matter what it took. So I made it work.”

Something that really stands out to Donna is the support she received from her instructor, Rashida Symonds.

“If I ran into a problem, all I had to do was call my teacher up. She’d always return my calls. She was so helpful and encouraging.”

Donna Johnson smiles while sitting at a table in front of an open laptop. Her husband stands nearby and smiles at her.
Donna credits her family for their support while she worked to achieve her high school diploma.

Following her passion

In June 2023, Donna walked across the stage at an NSCC Convocation ceremony and received her high school diploma.

Having achieved her grade 12, Donna took just a few days off after retirement before starting the Baking and Pastry Arts program at Akerley Campus, where she hopes to formalize something she’s enjoyed doing for a long time.

“I love baking. I always have. My husband and I talked about the [Baking and Pastry Arts] program and he said, ‘You’ve been taking care of people all your life. It’s about time you did something for you.’ So I applied, got in and this is my first time taking in-person classes since vocational school. I know that if it’s challenging or if I feel lost, I’ll always have support from the College.”

Nothing is unattainable

Donna has words of encouragement for those considering NSCC.

“Go for it. I thought it wasn’t achievable. I was worried about the financing and whether I could do it, but I did it. Nothing is unattainable. The staff at NSCC go out of their way to help you with everything. You can do this.”