78-Year Old Marjorie Zellmer Earns HSED; Enrolls in MATC’s Associate in Arts Degree Program


July 01, 2017

Marjorie Zellmer

Marjorie Zellmer

When Marjorie Zellmer crossed the stage at the GED/HSED graduation at MATC on June 7, she finally earned her high school equivalency diploma (HSED) – 60 years after she left classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s predecessor, Milwaukee Vocational and Adult School. The 78-year-old promptly enrolled in MATC’s associate in arts degree program and is excitedly looking forward to beginning classes in August.

Zellmer dropped out of high school at 16 to get a job to help support her family, but was required by law to take some classes at Milwaukee Vocational and Adult School until she reached legal adulthood. When she turned 18, she left school with a certificate she assumed was a high school diploma. She went on to have a varied career, working in clothing sales most of her work life.

Surprised to Learn She Didn’t Have High School Diploma

When her granddaughter decided to enroll in college in 2013, Zellmer decided she should take some college courses, too. That’s when she got an unwelcome surprise. It turned out that the certificate she had received in 1957 was not actually a high school diploma. She would need a general educational development (GED) certificate or an HSED to enroll in college courses.

She began to work on earning her GED at MATC’s West Allis Campus. But mathematics, an old nemesis from high school days, continued to be a stumbling block. Taking the timed GED mathematics test caused Zellmer great test anxiety and she flunked it several times.


Zellmer graduated with her HSED in June, 60 years after leaving MATC's predecessor, Milwaukee Vocational and Adult School.

In fall 2016, MATC’s School of Pre-College Education began a new 5.09 HSED program, which is housed at the West Allis Campus. There are variations of the 5.09 program throughout Wisconsin. MATC’s program gives HSED students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of 76 competencies as determined by the Wisconsin Technical College System. Competencies lie in the areas of social studies, communications, mathematics, science, health, civics and employability. Courses can be waived based on prior learning, credit for high school classes or by testing out. The 5.09 program is designed to help students graduate with an HSED in two semesters.

Zellmer did test out of many subjects, but she took coursework in health, civics and mathematics, both online and in person at the West Allis Campus in fall 2016. After finishing one of the two required mathematics courses, she decided to see if she could test out of the second semester by taking MATC’s Accuplacer mathematics test instead. “I did it,” she said jubilantly. “I passed because it wasn’t a timed test.”

I’m 78, but I feel no older than 35 or 40. More senior citizens should go to college and keep learning. It keeps you young. Your mind stays active. Young people need us to be role models. If our youth fail, it’s due to lack of role models.

Marjorie Zellmer MATC Student

Zellmer’s Positive Energy Is Contagious

The joy and enthusiasm she felt about passing the mathematics test is typical of her approach to life, according to Holly Thielen, MATC Pre-College mathematics instructor.

“Marjorie has a positive energy that attracts people,” Thielen said. “She knows how to keep negative energy out. Her positive energy influences others even when things are a challenge for her. Marjorie had been struggling with math for so long. But her motivation and determination made her succeed. If she hit a brick wall, she found her way around it. She would even stay after class and help other students.”


Zellmer is enrolled in the MATC's associate of arts degree program and will start classes in August.

Classmate Tricia Ornes said, “Marjorie’s determination motivated me to be at school. This was my third time trying to get my certificate. Marjorie would say to me, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”

Zellmer has high praise for the HSED 5.09 program and its instructors. “The 5.09 program is awesome,” she said. “It’s geared to help students with particular issues, like test anxiety or dyslexia, get their diplomas. The instructors are great, too,” she said. “They will do anything to help you get through the courses.”


Most MATC 5.09 Graduates Enrolled in Associate Degree Programs

Zellmer and Ornes were among the first five students to graduate from MATC’s 5.09 HSED this June. Most of those students are enrolled in MATC associate degree programs beginning in August.

Zellmer said she will “go where the Lord leads me,” regarding her liberal arts studies. She described herself as a very curious person with many interests. She taught herself to play the organ, and is an artist and a writer. She has published a book of poetry called Odds and Ends of a Thinking Mind, and has written yet-to-be-published children’s stories. Among many other subjects, she is intrigued by nature, geology and psychology.

“I’m 78, but I feel no older than 35 or 40,” she said. “More senior citizens should go to college and keep learning. It keeps you young. Your mind stays active. Young people need us to be role models. If our youth fail, it’s due to lack of role models.”


Zellmer gathered with her 5.09 HSED classmates and instructors before graduation. Front row, left to right: Tricia Ornes; Alina DeLaCruz Bartel; and Susan Nemez, instructional chair of MATC's 5.09 HSED Program. Back row, left to right: Holly Thielen, MATC Pre-College mathematics instructor; Selise Walker; and Marjorie Zellmer.

Zellmer is enrolled in English, mathematics and speech courses during the upcoming fall semester. “I’m so excited – like a kid headed for Christmas or a new toy,” she said. “There’s so much knowledge to be absorbed and ways to use it for good.”

For more information on MATC’s 5.09 HSED program, visit: http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/precollege/509_hs_completion.cfm

Read more about MATC’s associate in arts degree at:http://www.matc.edu/las/degrees/associate-in-arts.cfm


Watch the WTMJ TV-4 story on Marjorie Zellmer