Zenda Carmody tries on her mortarboard at her Bristol home Tuesday. Zenda, now 54, last attended Sullivan Central for a couple of days in 1980, but she will receive an honorary high school diploma on Thursday night. David Grace photo.
BLOUNTVILLE — More than three decades after last attending Sullivan Central High School, Zenda Carmody will go across the stage and receive her high school diploma Thursday night.
Carmody — 54, mentally challenged and in a wheelchair — is to receive the honorary diploma from Central after more than three decades of trying to get a GED.
Now a Bristol, Tenn., resident, Carmody's dream has been to attain a high school diploma or the equivalent.
She was a Sullivan County resident of Blountville and last attended Central in 1979 and for two days in 1980, she said.
Since then, she has been working toward her goal — by taking GED classes at the Literary Academy of Bristol for the past 20 years and taking GED classes at the National Guard Armory before that.
"I've been working on a GED for 36 years," Carmody said.
"I didn't think of anything like this. They brought it up," Carmody said of folks at the Literary Academy. "I'm very excited."
Also along the way, she got married to Marty Carmody, who works in the dining hall of King College in Bristol.
The Carmodys, married for 29 years, were the first Bristol recipients of a Habitat for Humanity house near downtown Bristol.
In exchange for the house, Zenda did community service work at Bristol's Anderson and Haynesfield elementary schools, where she prepared crafts and read to the children. She still volunteers to read at the Bristol Public Library.
After hearing of her determination and perseverance, Central Principal Mark Foster said he decided to award her an honorary diploma. She will go across the stage in her wheelchair with the rest of the graduating class on Thursday at 8 p.m.
"Mrs. Carmody never gave up her desire or dream to achieve a high school diploma," Foster said Tuesday of Carmody, who didn't have enough credits for a regular diploma. "This is a testament to what one can achieve when one refuses to give up on the dream."
Carmody said she enjoys working, and has maintained jobs, including being a sign flipper for Little Caesars. She also said she enjoys singing in her church choir at First Freewill Baptist Church in Bristol. She said she's in the wheelchair because of arthritis, among other things.
Carmody is "not real sure" she will continue to seek a GED, which as of Jan. 1 became an all online test and, she is told by the Literacy Academy officials, more difficult.
Like the other Central graduates, she'll be wearing a cap and gown and have family in attendance. Her husband, brothers, sisters and mother-in-law will be in the audience to see her receive her diploma.