Soon after Annie Ebert began working at the Mary B. Erskine Education Center in 2006, she made one of the biggest decisions of her life.
More than five decades after being forced to drop out of high school to help with the family finances, the 70-year-old grandmother was going back to school in an effort to earn her GED.
“My dad got sick and I had to quit school and find a job washing dishes in cafes when I was in 10th grade,” Ebert said. “None of my siblings got to graduate. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do — to see if I could do it.”
Naturally, though, re-entering the classroom after such a long absence wasn’t the smoothest of transitions, and Ebert said that she struggled with a few of the lessons.
“Some of the stuff I’d never even heard of,” she said.
Her family, however, stayed in her corner the entire time, supporting her lifelong dream.
“We gave her all the support she needed through the tough and the good and bad times,” said grandson Aaron Batot. “We just encouraged her to keep going and push through it because we knew she could do it.”
That confidence was well-founded, as Ebert achieved her goal in December, donning the cap and gown for the first time in her life as she received her equivalency diploma from Erskine in front of a host of proud family members.
“I was on cloud nine,” Ebert said. “It felt so good.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Throughout her journey back into the classroom, Ebert kept offering support to Batot, who was attending Seguin High School. And now, Ebert will have another graduation ceremony to attend on Saturday — that of her grandson.
“I always tell him I’m proud of him,” Ebert said. “I’m always writing him notes or something and always telling him how proud I am of him.”
Batot says that his grandmother’s advice played a large role in his academic career, as she always encouraged him to look towards the future. Already a married man — and with a baby girl to look after — Batot plans on attending the Universal Technical Institute in the Houston area to further his knowledge of automotive mechanics.
“(She told me) ‘Just give it you best and stay in there,’” Batot said. “‘You’ve only got a couple more months and you’ll be pursuing you passion, going to UTI and being you own little family.’”
Batot admits, however, that there are a few anxious moments when he imagines life on his own.
“For me, it’s scary but exciting,” he said. “I know what I’m going to start, which is going to technical school and everything, but I’m sort of scared just to be out in the real world with just myself, (wife) Katie and (daughter) Bailey, all by ourselves.”
Batot’s grandmother knows what it means to put family first as a teenager, no matter how daunting the task may appear. When her father fell ill, not only did Ebert have to enter the workforce, but she also witnessed her mother’s resolve in the face of what she described as “hard times.”
“We got free flour from the flour mill — my dad worked for the Seguin Milling Company,” Ebert said. “My mother would bake homemade bread and sell it for, I think 25 cents or 50 cents a loaf, and that would help. Then she also took in ironing for some of the people who lived on the river.”
Some of that never-say-die attitude was instilled in young Annie, who in turn chose to pass it on to her grandson. Batot says that it was impossible not to take notice of his grandmother’s willingness to lead by example.
“When she did that, it proved to me how willing she was and how much she really wanted it,” Batot said. “She strived to do everything she could to get her GED.”
Now Ebert has some advice for others who want to go back to school — don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. She said that it all starts with a simple phone call to the Erskine Education Center, which offers several adult education programs.
And as an Erskine employee herself, it’s a call that Ebert would be proud to answer.
“First, find out when you can register, then call up here and find out when registration is,” Ebert said. “It usually starts in the late part of August, first part of September. We have a big library back there and we have a lot of resources on every subject — we have five subjects.
“Don’t be intimidated, because if I can do it, anybody can do it.”