Grace Casper gripped the menu so tight, her knuckles turned white.

Any minute now, the waiter would return and she would have to speak…to another person!

While her parents chatted, Grace mentally rehearsed her speech for the waiter.

Hello, I would like to order a—wait. Do I need to say hello? Does that make sense? Should I say: Hello, my name is Grace and I would like to have—er…why say my name? The waiter doesn’t need an introduction. Oh gosh. Just order the food, Grace. Please.

Sigh. Okay.

Ehem. I would like to order—hey, when do I ask about the sauce and what’s in it and if I can get it on the side? Should I order first and then ask or should I just ask right away? And what if—

“Hello, folks, what’ll it be today?”

The waiter loomed over the table, pen poised over the paper pad. Grace’s parents ordered their food and then all eyes landed on her the way vultures descend on roadkill.

All the words, thoughts, questions, edits, and criticisms flooded her throat. She could hardly breathe, let alone speak.

Ever since childhood, Grace has had to cope with severe social anxiety. Gatherings big or small, with friends or with family sent her into hiding. If she could rehearse a conversation and if she could work up the nerve to approach someone, then she could sometimes manage a one-on-one dialogue.

Not surprisingly, Grace struggled in school.

“I wasn’t able to take my time on projects and assignments,” she explains. She worried about her future; she’d never secure a good job if she couldn’t conquer (or even just rein in) her anxiety.

When she began to fail multiple high school classes, Grace’s parents suggested the Durango Adult Education Center. Grace enrolled last fall and began attending classes. To her relief, she entered a welcoming environment with lessons tailored to her needs. The Center’s small classes and dedicated teachers allowed adaptation to be made to suit Grace’s learning needs. The Center allowed her to work alone if she needed to, or let her choose a partner or group if the work required a team. The Center also provided homework whenever she requested it.

“I didn’t have as high of anxiety at the DAEC because I didn’t have to talk with anyone other than my teachers and only with other students when I chose to,” Grace says.

Grace passed all her exams in April 2019 and graduated with her GED. When she thinks of other students who may also struggle with anxiety, the savvy 18-year-old notes, “I am not good at giving advice, but I can assure others that going to the Center shouldn’t worry or distress them because you are able to stay in your own space and zone and work on what you need to get done.”

At present, Grace is working and saving money. She wants to travel the world and immerse herself in new cultures and places as a means of discovering what she might like to study in college. In many ways, it’s as if the future is a vast menu and Grace is placing her order with gusto.   

She says, “My condition shouldn’t have to affect living the way I want to.”

For more information about the GED and other programs at the Center, visit www.durangoadulted.org. New classes starting August 26.