I thought I was Stupid; Now I have a PhD

Laurie Buchanan

From GED to PhD

“My Gutsy Story®” by Laurie Buchanan

Following thirteen months behind my only sibling’s footsteps was hard. Really hard. From elementary school on, Julie was a glowing student. Barely having to crack a book, she absorbed, digested, and understood information seemingly by osmosis, and had fun doing it.


Laurie Buchanan elementary school.

She maintained straight A’s throughout her academic career, was listed on every honor roll, was valedictorian of her graduating class, and earned a scholarship to San Diego State University. I, on the other hand, struggled to maintain a C average and ran away from home at the age of fifteen.

Let’s take a moment and rewind…

I thought I was stupid. Compared to my sister, it certainly appeared that way. However, it wasn’t until many years later I discovered that I learn in a different way from how I was being taught. There are three learning styles:

  • Auditory learners grasp things by hearing them—the worst test type for them is reading passages and writing answers about them in a timed test. They’re best at writing responses to lectures they’ve heard. They’re also good at oral exams.
  • Visual learners comprehend through seeing them—the worst test type for them is listen and respond. They’re best at diagramming, reading maps, essays (if they’ve studied using an outline), and showing a process.
  • Tactile (kinesthetic) learners understand through experiencing/doing them—the worst test type for them is lengthy tests and essays. They’re best at short definitions, fill in the blanks, and multiple choice.

The general teaching population when I was in school were auditory teachers. As a heavily tactile learner, with a smidgen of visual thrown in for good measure, I was missing the boat!

Fast forward…

When you run away from home, you also run away from school. Had I done any advance planning—which I had not—I would have known that if you leave high school before you graduate, you can’t test for a GED—General Education Diploma—until two years after your graduating class.

“Why not?” I asked. The firm, but polite career counselor at Clark College, the local junior college in Vancouver, Washington—a few states from home—explained that if that particular stop-gap measure weren’t in place, every high school student would jump ship early.

I had lied about my age and was working at Fred Meyer, a large, everything-under-one-roof store. Over the next few years I worked my way up to managing the women’s wear department, then added men’s wear, and topped it off with furniture.

During this window of time I was gaining valuable life experience. Part of this seat-of-the-pants wisdom was learning to say, “I don’t understand. Can you please explain it differently?” And then I noticed that no matter how many times someone “told” me, it wasn’t until they “showed” me that I got it! When shown, I not only met, but exceeded what was expected of me.

Managing all of those departments wasn’t enough to keep my mind fully occupied. If testing for the GED was out of the question at that time, I wanted to know if they’d at least let me take CLEP tests (College Level Examination Program) so I’d be ready to hit the ground running at the junior college level once I had my diploma in hand. The same polite, but firm career counselor I’d spoken with before explained, “That program is for high school graduates and people who’ve already earned their GED.”

I’d left high school as a sophomore in 1973. Four long years I waited and prepared to take the GED examination. On a hot day in late June of 1977, with the cut-grass tang of summer in the air, I slipped into a front row seat at the testing center; one of about twenty other people enveloped in the sterile classroom setting. The examiner explained that talking was expressly prohibited.

The all-day test was given in seven parts: Language Arts (writing)—50 questions, 75 minutes. Language Arts (reading) 40 questions, 65 minutes. Social Studies—50 questions, 70 minutes. Science—50 questions, 80 minutes. Math (calculator allowed)—25 questions, 45 minutes. Math (calculator not allowed)—25 questions, 45 minutes. US Constitution—45 questions, 60 minutes.

Laurie after passing her GED

Laurie after passing her GED

Head high with a face-splitting grin, I left the facility with every confidence that I’d aced the test. Six weeks later I received my GED certificate in the mail. And that was just the beginning. Over time I earned my associates degree, then bachelors, followed by a masters degree. Finally, two weeks before my fiftieth birthday, I sat and defended my PhD thesis.

Hard-wired for buoyancy and tenacious as a terrier, when I set my mind on something I go after it with tremendous resolve. It took a while, but I eventually went from GED to PhD.

You might be wondering why I ran away from home. Ah, that’s another story…


Board Certified with the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Laurie Buchanan is a holistic health practitioner and transformation life coach. With the philosophy of “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing,” Laurie works with the whole person, helping them turn intention into action; bridging the gap between where they are, and where they want to be — body, mind, and spirit. Please join Laurie on Twitter @HolEssence, and please like her on Facebook.

2014 display ad - constrained

SONIA MARSH SAYS: I know your story will motivate someone to keep going with their education. I remember struggling to “memorize” certain subjects in school, without understanding the concepts. Congratulations on getting your PhD., and not giving up.


Do you have a “My Gutsy Story®” you’d like to share?


Click on cover to go to Amazon

Would you like to submit your “My Gutsy Story®” and get published in our 2nd anthology?

Please see guidelines below and contact Sonia Marsh at: sonia@soniamarsh.com for details.

You can find all the information, and our new sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story®” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here

VOTING for your favorite December 2013  stories starts on January 2nd, 2014, and ends on January 15th. The WINNER is announced on January 16th. Please check out all our December stories with Marian Beaman and Fee Johnson, Ian Mathie, Jessica O’Gorek and Laurie Buchanan, sharing their My Gutsy Story®.

Comments (23)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Sonia Marsh says:


    Your story made me feel like that little girl sitting in the classroom, struggling to learn certain subjects and feeling, “stupid.” Thank you so much for sharing what you went through.
    Sonia Marsh recently posted..I thought I was Stupid; Now I have a PhDMy Profile

  2. Laurie was already a source of great inspiration — this makes her even more so. Quite a woman!
    Jeffrey Willius recently posted..SEASON’S GREETINGS!My Profile

  3. Muriel says:

    What an inspirational story! Thanks for sharing this, Laurie, it was exactly what I needed to finish 2013. Just like you, I believe that, if we are motivated, the sky is the limit! You have proven it!
    Muriel recently posted..Tired Of The French ClichesMy Profile

  4. Sandi White says:

    Laurie has been my friend for several years now and has never failed to impress me with her determination and perseverance. Once she sets her mind and lays her hand to a task, you may consider it done. She has surprised me in times past with her ability to take almost any situation head-on…and in the coolest, most common sense manner possible. She is a Wonder and an inspiration to all who know her.
    Sandi White recently posted..True Love and Home Grown TomatoesMy Profile

  5. Sandi – Well, you’ve certainly managed to blow me out of the water this morning — I’m grinning from ear to ear! Thank you so much for your kind words.
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted..The Magical Faerie WhiskMy Profile

  6. What a great tale of triumph. I vote for you Laurie, hands down.
    You are a great example of tenacious joy.
    Thank you for sharing here Sonia.
    xo Suzi
    Suzi Banks Baum recently posted..Happy New Year. I have my nose in a few books…My Profile

  7. Lada Ray says:

    Great job, Laurie 🙂

  8. “from GED to PHD” – Now that’s a story worth sharing. Congratulations on your success, Laurie.
    Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – 2014My Profile

  9. Kathy says:

    I vote for Laurie! She inspires us to never give up.

  10. Kathy – You made me smile. Thank you!
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted..The Serendipitous LifeMy Profile

  11. Leanne Dyck says:

    Laurie, thank you for sharing your success story. You have every right to be very proud.
    I have dyslexia and so am in touch with both feeling like you’re stupid and in learning that I acquire knowledge in a different way than others.
    Leanne Dyck recently posted..Literature As An Oppositional Disorder by Ernest HekkanenMy Profile

    • Tina Hill says:

      Laurie, I am just getting caught up on email after being out of the loop. Congratulations! Your story is very inspiring and motivates me to keep on living my dream.

      Tina R. Hill
      McHenry County Board

  12. Teecee says:

    Awesome story, Laurie!

  13. Thanks a lot. I have been previously in search of something like this kind of. Wonderful information I am going to look pertaining to info connected with the three Day time Diet.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge