Mark Ross dropped out of school when he was in the 10th grade. He said he was always a goof-off in school and never took it very seriously.
"I wasn't just the class clown," the Bluffton man said. "I was the school comedian."
Ross got his first job at age 14, working at a restaurant. He quickly realized that he preferred working over studying.
Ross started his own landscaping company, RosScapes, in 2001. As the years went by and he settled down and had a child with his wife, Katie, he realized the importance of an education. He knew he wouldn't be able to work in landscaping forever since it's such a physical job. But mostly he wanted to do more with his life for the sake of his son, Connor.
"How can I push education on him with me not completing school?" Ross asked.
As a landscaper, Ross does a lot of business with Smith Turf & Irrigation Co. in Bluffton, which is right next door to Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry.
Ross said for years he saw the sign for the nonprofit adult literacy organization and thought about taking the General Education Development test. About two years ago, he decided to go in and get some information.
Ross ended up going back to take a placement test. He said the test showed where his strengths and weaknesses were. Math was his weakest subject. So he started working with volunteer tutor Ted Stevenson.
"There's no shame in asking for help," Ross said. "We have to help each other out. You can't do things alone. ... People have too much pride to ask for help."
And Ross wasn't ashamed. He spent two years working with his tutor, preparing for the exam. He said it took him so long because he was busy working and caring for his son. He said he and Stevenson often got together on Sunday mornings to study because it was the only time Ross had to spare with his busy schedule.
It all paid off Aug. 17, when Ross passed the exam.
Because of his hard work and determination, the literacy organization recently honored Ross with the Bill Bligen Adult Literacy Student of the Year award. Executive director Jean Heyduck said the staff chose Ross because they saw how hard he worked to achieve his goal.
"He's just a really good example of how if you haven't had the opportunity to finish your education or you haven't had the opportunity to really learn to read or to write or to even speak English, where there's a will, there's a way," Heyduck said.
In addition to earning his GED certificate, Ross said all that studying has helped him with his business, especially with the administrative side.
"I didn't realize we use algebra every day," he said.
But Ross said he's not finished. His next goal is to learn to read and write in Spanish.
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.
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