A diploma worth the wait

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This story appeared in the Dec. 17 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. 

By Carrie Click

RIFLE – Graduation ceremonies at Colorado Mountain College signify a range of educational milestones.

Christopher Popish at graduation

Christopher Popish received his high school equivalency diploma at CMC Rifle’s December graduation. Popish was one of 200 students who graduated from the Rifle campus with certificates, diplomas and degrees. Photo Chelsea Self/Post Independent

At the Rifle campus, so many students now receive diplomas, certificates and degrees that not all the graduates and their families can fit into the campus’s Clough Auditorium. Last spring, graduation was held in a hangar at the Rifle Garfield County Airport.

So in order to bring graduation back to the Rifle campus, for the first time a December commencement was held in addition to the usual May ceremony. Those who completed graduation requirements in the summer or fall of 2017 were eligible to participate this month.

For Christopher Popish, collecting his high school diploma was a long time coming, and an achievement well worth celebrating.

Earlier this month, when the 34-year-old was asked if he was planning to participate in the graduation ceremony at CMC Rifle on Dec. 15, he said, “Absolutely! I’ll be there!”

Supporting dad, brother

Popish’s parents split up when he was a boy growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. He and his younger brother moved in with their father, although through the years, Popish could see how tough it was for his dad to support both boys.

“I wanted to help my dad support my brother,” he said, so he quit school in the ninth grade. “And in Texas during that time, there were plenty of jobs that didn’t require a high school education.”

Popish said he did everything from cleaning toilets to cleaning pools. He worked at the Texas Motor Speedway, and later, for a trucking company loading up Humvees and other heavy equipment for the military. “It was backbreaking work,” he said. “It was in the Mojave Desert where it was 120 degrees.”

Popish and Potts family

After receiving encouragement from his girlfriend Sidney Potts, upper left, Christopher Popish – bottom right, shown with daughter Zoie and son Cal-el – decided it was time to earn his high school equivalency diploma.

With two kids – his son, Cal-el, is now 11, and daughter Zoie is 8 – Popish tried several times to study for the general education diploma (GED) test to be able to secure a high school equivalency diploma (HSE), but he just couldn’t follow through. “I didn’t have the knowledge to get it done,” he said. After a break-up with his children’s mother, he moved from Texas to Canyon Creek in Garfield County to join family living there.

Landing ‘dream job’

It wasn’t until he met Sidney Potts, who now is his girlfriend, that the idea to finally get his diploma stuck. “Sidney gave me the drive to do it,” he said. “She came to me and said, ‘You have an appointment tomorrow to meet a lady named Cathy at CMC to get your GED,’” he said.

Cathy Slaymaker is the high school equivalency lead instructor at CMC Rifle. She worked alongside Popish every step of the way. “Christopher was one of those students who made the work that we do in the classroom seem worthwhile,” she said. “He appreciated our guidance and was a focused and hard-working student.”

It wasn’t always easy. After studying, Popish passed his social studies, science and language arts tests. But it took four tries, after more studying and many months, to finally pass his math test.

“In September I took the test on the computer, then waited for the results,” he said. “I took a deep breath and looked at the screen. I saw that I’d passed and I was getting my GED. I was as excited as the days my children were born.”

That month Popish also landed what he calls his “dream job,” working at Brenden Theatres Rifle 7. “I love movies!” he said. “I named my son after ‘Superman.’”

So Dec. 15 was a day he eagerly anticipated for two reasons: “It’s graduation, and it’s opening night for the new Star Wars,” he said, both events he was excited to experience.