Tom Jung/Daily Journal
Wauneta Vasko, 78, proudly shows off her GED she
received during the San Mateo Adult School’s 2014 Graduation Ceremony June 11 at College of San Mateo.
June 11 was a special day for 78-year-old Wauneta Vasko, complete with a speech and coveted high school diploma.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Vasko moved to San Francisco at the age of 1 and was adopted by her grandparents. At 6, she moved to Daly City, but at 13, she had to quit school to go to work.
“I always wanted my diploma,” she said. “It’s one of the proudest moments in my life. It’s something I did; I followed through with. I feel I did a good job.”
The 48-year San Mateo resident enrolled at the San Mateo Adult School in October 2012 and had to take reading, writing, social studies and math classes. She had to pass a test in each class.
“Math scared the daylights out of me,” she said. “It’s (the Adult School) a place that if you want to do something with your life to go. It’s not fun and games like a regular high school — this is, you go in there and you work and you work hard.”
Despite the difficulties, everyone at the school is 100 percent encouraging, including her teacher Shirley McMahon, who helped her through short-term memory issues she faced.
“My teacher had the patience of a saint,” she said. “Between my family telling me to try to do the best I can and how with all these people rooting for you, how can you not do it?”
In the graduation speech, which Vasko gave at the ceremony at College of San Mateo, she noted that once the last of Vasko’s four grandchildren graduated high school and went to college, she felt it was finally her turn to get her diploma. She has two daughters.
“These young people on this stage tonight are an inspiration to me,” she said in the speech. “Their hopes and dreams for their future are so wonderful. They are all working hard to make something of themselves, you should be very proud of them.”
Vasko followed the path of her late husband, who went back to get his General Education Development diploma at the age of 52. Before retiring at 65 to help care for her ill husband, she worked as a waitress for 47 years. She worked at restaurants like Black Angus and Santini’s pizza parlor at 18th Avenue and El Camino Real. She also worked at Gypsy Cellar in Redwood City, where the Yugoslavian owner, a survivor of a German concentration camp, would play the violin while people ate dinner.
“I watched kids grow up and get married and the whole bit,” she said.
Vasko’s own kids are very happy to see her graduate.
“I’m very, very proud of her,” said her daughter Susan Sexton. “She really, really worked hard to get it and she was doing this for her.”
Adult School Director Larry Teshera had only good things to say about Vasho.
“She’s been a great inspiration for all our younger people,” Teshera said. “She’s so appreciative and told the students how inspired she is by them. She inspired them as well. She stole the show (at graduation). Education is not for children — it’s for everybody. We’re going to miss having her around.”
What lies in Vasko’s future?
“I’ve got to do something,” she said. “I love to talk. I’m a people person and I can’t stay in my house. I’ve thought about maybe volunteering; going back to school and helping with the reading. I’m kind of at a standstill. I’m only 78 and I’m not ready to go yet.”
For more on the San Mateo Adult School, go to smace.org/welcome.html.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105