Making history: Victor woman first in three generations to attain diploma

Danielle Pirolo couldn't have been happier as she waited for Literacy Bitterroot Executive Director Dixie Stark to finish placing a tassel on her graduation cap. Pirolo was the first in three generations of her family to earn a high school diploma.

Perry Backus - Ravalli Republic

VICTOR – It would be hard to imagine a happier face.

Nineteen-year-old Danielle Pirolo was beaming last Tuesday afternoon as she patiently waited for Literacy Bitterroot executive director Dixie Stark to finish hanging the tassel on her graduation cap.

It was a day that had been a long time in coming for the Victor woman’s family.

Neither her mother, father nor grandmother had earned their high school diploma. Some bit of life got in the way for each one of them to fulfill that dream.

For a time, it didn’t look like Pirolo would either.

She had gotten sideways with the folks at Victor High School and then been told she didn’t qualify for Hamilton High School’s alternative program either. She was living with her boyfriend. She had started to wonder about her chances of going back to school ever again.

When she started inquiring about getting a job, she received a shock that helped set her back on course.

“No one was really calling me back after I told them I wasn’t in school and didn’t have a diploma,” Pirolo said. “I was supposed to graduate in 2014, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t like my options.”

So she took a deep breath and enrolled in the classes at Literacy Bitterroot designed to help people prepare for the new high school equivalency test.

After applying herself for several weeks, Pirolo took and passed the test the very first time around.

“I knew I had studied pretty hard for the test, but I surprised myself,” she said. “I didn’t think that I had done very well.”

The response that she’s received from her family has made it all the more worthwhile.

“My brother has always looked up to me,” she said. “He’s 16. After I got my diploma, it seemed like he started working harder at school. Maybe seeing me do this is what he needed.”

The best came when she called her grandmother, Beverly Hermisillo, in Nevada to share the news.

“She cried,” Pirolo said. “She told me: ‘I’ve never been more proud of you in my entire life than I am right now.’ She’s always had my back since forever. Whenever things were down, she would bring me up.

“It meant a lot to hear her tell me that.”

Pirolo plans to take her newly earned diploma to beauty school next. And after that’s complete, she thinks she’ll enroll in college classes at the Bitterroot College.

“I’m really into forensic science,” she said. “I’m so happy today. I’m glad that I’ve taken this step so I can move and take the next one.”

With the economy improving and jobs easier to come by, Stark said the number of people stepping forward to take the high school equivalency test at Literacy Bitterroot has been on the decline this year.

As of last month, 28 students have passed the test in Hamilton. Last year, the numbers stood at 42.

For the first time, Stark said Literacy Bitterroot and the Bitterroot College have teamed together to offer an educational program to the community.

The Ed Ready Montana program will offer people interested in fine-tuning their math skills a chance to go online or work with an instructor on Tuesdays or Thursdays in the Bitterroot College Computer Lab, 274 Old Corvallis Road, between 10 a.m. and noon.

The program will be open to students between May 26 and July 17.

The class offers instruction on basic math to college calculus. People preparing to return to college or dealing with a work-related assignment or getting geared up for the high school equivalency test will find the course helpful.

People interested in preparing for college can email Jaime Middleton at Jaime.middleton@umontana.edu or call 375-0100 to learn more. Stark’s phone number is 363-2900.

“It’s exciting for us to be able to offer this in conjunction with the Bitterroot College,” Stark said. “I’ve always seen myself as a farmer of dreams. Being able to help people realize their dreams makes this the most wonderful job in the world.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.