In 1995, Ferndale High School student Dan Barry planned to graduate. But despite going through all the pomp and circumstance, he never received his diploma that June, as his Running Start community college transcript wasn’t sent to FHS until it was too late.
Twenty-six years later, on Dec. 3, 2021, Barry – now the president of the Ferndale Rotary Club, a mortgage loan officer and a father – finally received his diploma.
“This was a long time coming,” he said as Ferndale School Board member Melinda Cool handed him a diploma that afternoon in the district office.
In 1996, Barry earned his GED. A few years later, after moving to the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora, he completed the final couple courses he needed for his high school transcript at Citrus College. But he was still unable to receive his diploma.
“I sat on the steps of Citrus College and called the Ferndale district office and said, ‘Hey, I had completed these two courses, can I get my diploma now?’ They said I was too old, because I was 22,” Barry said.
Barry spent the next 14 years in California holding a variety of jobs, from selling cars to editing and writing for West Coast Magazine. In the latter position, he once interviewed then-California Governor and action movie legend Arnold Schwarzenegger for an article.
After living in Poulsbo for a few years, Barry returned to Ferndale in 2017. By 2019, he was a member of the Ferndale Rotary Club, and was speaking with Linda Quinn, the then-Superintendent of Ferndale School District, at a Rotary function. After she asked when he graduated from Ferndale High, Barry admitted the school had never given him a diploma.
“After I told (Dr. Quinn) my story, she said, ‘What the district told you is incorrect,’” Barry said. “She said she’d handed diplomas to people who were 70 years old, so she’d be happy to give me a diploma.”
That diploma hand-off was delayed a couple more years due to COVID-19, but Barry finally received it earlier this month. He called the experience validating.
“I put in the work for it, and it feels like now I can truly state that I’m a high school graduate,” he said. “I know that may not seem very important -- I have 70 college credits, being a high school graduate shouldn’t matter -- but it does.”
“I think giving a diploma to anybody is a great honor, and for Dan to come back and see the importance of it, of course I had to be there too,” said Ferndale School Board member Melinda Cool.
Barry is currently working on his teaching degree through Western Governors University, and eventually hopes to become a middle school math teacher in Ferndale. If there’s one thing he hopes to impart on his future students, it’s that life doesn’t always travel in a straight line.
“Just because you don’t check off the list of things to do in the order that everybody prescribes them doesn’t mean that you can’t get them done,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to give up and not go after what you want.”