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Lifelong journey to a high school diploma

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Marla Julianto and Voda Koberstein

Marla Julianto holds her HiSet certificate as she stands next to Owyhee Adult Learning Center teacher Voda Koberstein on Sept. 10. 

ELKO – It’s never too late to finish your education. Just ask Marla Julianto, who, at 66 years old, obtained her high school equivalency certificate in September.

The Owyhee resident celebrates her accomplishment that included many ups and downs as she studied for her exams. It’s the conclusion of a journey to finish her education that started many years ago.

“Growing up and attending public school in Mountain Home, Idaho, as a Native American, I felt invisible, like no one saw me as a person,” Julianto recalled. “As a result, I fell through the cracks and dropped out of school my sophomore year.”

Julianto went on to start a family, working minimum wage jobs and “struggling to get by.” At 30, she decided to go back to school and started taking evening classes for her GED.

But she said she became discouraged by the program’s “lack of support or encouragement” and eventually dropped out.

About 20 years went by. Julianto moved to Owyhee to be closer to family, and she “continued to struggle, working for minimum wage.”

In 2019, Julianto decided to try again and signed up for Great Basin College’s ABE/ESL program through the Owyhee Adult Learning Center to start working on the HiSet high school equivalency.

For the HiSet, students must complete a battery of five tests in math, reading, science, social studies and writing. This time, Julianto knew what she had to do, and she didn’t shy away from undertaking the new challenge.

“I told myself, ‘Marla, no one is going to give you this diploma. You have to work for it,’” she said.

At the Learning Center, Julianto met her teacher Voda Koberstein, who was “heaven-sent.”

Koberstein was Julianto’s biggest cheerleader. “She encouraged me every day, telling me I can do this.”

But everything came to a halt in the spring of 2020 when Covid-19 closed the schools on the Duckwater Valley Reservation. The closure “was a big letdown,” Julianto remembered.

However, Koberstein continued to prepare Julianto for her tests, despite the shutdown, sending her homework “to last me all year. She even called me to see how I was doing.”

Finally, it was time to take the tests. Her scores were “close, but I did not pass all the subjects” on the first try.

Julianto decided to study one subject at a time, “which worked better for me.” In August, she took her math test on the last retake attempt and received a passing score to earn her certificate.

She hopes that her story inspires others to “overcome anything, just as long as you have faith in yourself.”

While some people may think that obtaining a high school diploma is out of reach once they hit a certain age, Julianto wants them to think again.

“I would like my story to help people understand that it doesn’t make any difference what age you are. You can do this,” she said. “You can do anything you put your mind to. Believe in yourself!”


Below is a photo gallery of students receiving their Adult High School Diplomas between 2016 and 2021.


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