Seven frustrating decades spent searching for a missing high school diploma ended happily recently, thanks to modern-- technology. With the click of a computer mouse, 87-year-old Jacksonville resident Loretta Nachand Sperling can consider herself a high school graduate of Ballard High School in Seattle, Washington.
“She had earned it, and they had never given it to her,” said Sperling's daughter, Susan Brock, who presented the long-lost parchment to her mother during a recent dinner on Lake Jacksonville. “She opened up the package, and there it was.”
Years of calls and letters to school officials always presented a blank wall, Sperling recalled.
“They kept telling me my records were officially lost, that they couldn't find them anywhere. Now, I've lost a lot of things, but never anything that important,” she said, adding she was surprised the success of her daughter's search. “I didn't think it would be easy because I knew the background work she had done to get to this point – somebody had to be digging some places in the school system to find my grades, and my name, and when (Susan) told me, 'You used to be known as Loretta Edna Nachand,' I said, 'yes.' ”
Inscribed at the top with “Seattle Public Schools Ballard High School,” Sperling's diploma bears her maiden name, the phrase “given at Seattle, Washington, on this fifteenth day of June, one thousand nine hundred forty-nine” – nearly 70 years to the day, Brock pointed out – and the signatures of the schools superintendent and school board president of
Although not precisely sure why she wasn't allowed to cross the stage with her classmates that evening, Sperling remembers as if it were yesterday the feelings racing through her when she realized that she was not going to be part of the commencement ceremony – or the rehearsals leading up to it.
“Nobody would hear me” when she asked about where she needed to sit or when she should walk during practices for the commencement ceremony.
“I was not included at all, but I went to some of (the graduation rehearsals) anyway, and I saw what was going on at rehearsal and it was supposed to be my graduation. I'd think, 'Should I get up and go with them?' No – they didn't have me on any list,” even though she recalled having more than the needed 32 credits for graduation. “I've wondered how many (others) were in the same boat I was in.”
While her classmates empathized with her situation, “we would look at each other cautiously in the hallways – they were wondering what was happening to them because I wasn't graduating, (thinking) 'I hope it's not contagious,'” she smiled, adding that years later, her friends told her how bad they felt about her not getting to graduate with their class.
But when she saw her classmates march across the stage without her, it made her feel “worthless,” she said, holding her forefinger and thumb an inch apart. “That's why I started harassing everyone – Mr. (Samuel) Fleming (then the schools superintendent) was at the top of my list.”
That summer, she traveled to Alaska to visit her father, Tom Nachand, who was upset over the injustice of his daughter's situation.
Her father wanted to go talk to her school officials, but she told him she had already done so to no success, “and he said, 'but they haven't listened to me.' ”
In 1948, she married Doug Carter, a local politician from Seattle, and the couple settled on Queen Anne Hill and had two sons. A subsequent marriage produced four daughters, with her family scattered throughout the country. All are high school graduates who've continued their education, respective to their careers, Sperling said.
“Education is the high point of the family life,” Sperling said. “Get your education and nobody can ever take it away from you – don't ever give up.”
The Queen Anne district was where her grandparents raised Sperling's father and his siblings; it also is where she attended schools through the 10th grade before transferring to Ballard High School.
She lived with her grandmother, who resided in the Ballard district, so that she could legally attend her junior and senior year there.
It was a smooth transition … until the mix-up with the lost diploma, for which school officials never gave a reason why she didn't receive one.
Brock took up the search this spring after realizing her mother was signing herself out of Jacksonville's Trinity senior residential center, and “going down to the end of the block to wait for a bus to take her to Ballard,” she said, recalling how she thought to herself, “We need to do something.”
So, she began asking the school questions: Could her mother get an honorary degree? Would they send the school emblem so she could use it to create a document that represented the fact that her mother indeed graduated?
“They said 'no.' But then they said 'We have this website where you can order transcripts, stuff like that,'” she recalled.
With the click of a computer mouse, Brock was able to not only get a copy of her mother's diploma (“there was a button that asked if we wanted to order a diploma, and I thought, all they can do is tell us, 'no, she didn't earn it'”), but also her transcript and “The Shingle,” the Ballard High School yearbook.
All those years, “she was trying to get her transcript, and to talk to (school officials) to see about getting her diploma. We had no idea until two or three weeks ago that she had even earned (her diploma) … she earned it back then, and they never gave it to her,” Brock said.
Sperling moved to Texas in 1953, pregnant with the eldest of her four daughters, then eventually raised all six of her children as a single mother.
“I spent many years as a secretary to corporate officers or lawyers. In 1977, I worked for a psychologist. In 1979, I was a juvenile officer … but I had to be appointed by a District Judge, as I had no degree,” Sperling said. “I spent five and a half years as a drug counselor for the State of Texas. This was mostly exciting and rewarding. I ended my career at an agency working with the mentally ill and mentally challenged in Tyler.”
Battles with two different kinds of cancer and a stroke were other fights to face, her daughter said, but Sperling “definitely has kept the fight, no matter what the situation, and for her to now finally receive her high school diploma, is another battle won!”