Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Randy Wilt
Randy Wilt

Randy Wilt really hates hearing the word "can't."

"Somebody tells me I can't do something, I just don't give up," the 79-year-old Wilt told CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

His story starts at the end of a long dirt road. His family lived in the boonies -- way in the boonies. Because school was really hard to get to - and his parents didn't value education anyway - Wilt dropped out after 7th grade. He eventually became an auto mechanic, got his own shop, made a great living and retired comfortably.

Wilt never needed - or even wanted - a high school education. Until about seven years ago, when his wife Roberta said everything changed.

"He'd start studying and he'd study for hours," she said.

Apparently, Wilt tried to get a little part-time job but couldn't because he didn't graduate from high school. And that irked him. Immediately, he set out to get his GED. Some subjects came easy, but writing and math ...

"I just could not get that at all," Wilt said, adding that he couldn't even count the number of times he took the test.

Month after month, year after year, Randy took the GED tests. Practice tests, real tests - he'd bomb them, study harder, only to bomb them again. This went on for six years.

He had "amazing tenacity - to have that goal and not let loose of it," recalled Thelma Slater, Wilt's tutor.

And because it was such a tough road for him, Wilt is saving a certain phone message.

"I was your proctor for the GED test. I just called to congratulate you. You passed both of those tests," said the voice on Wilt's answering machine.

Some might think it's overstatement to say that in America you can be anything you want to be. But certainly Wilt proves that we all can be more than we are. In fact, that's why he's is still studying - for his first college course.

"How much farther can I go? I don't know," says Wilt, adding, "Why can't I?! Don't tell me I can't!"

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.