MHS grad earns diploma three years after graduation


By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter

Teacher Matt Sanko stands with Ryan Boyd, who graduated in 2018.
Teacher Matt Sanko stands with Ryan Boyd, who graduated in 2018.

MARLBOROUGH — Several months ago, and three years after his graduation, Ryan Boyd received a call from Marlborough High School, telling him that he could finally get his school diploma. 

When he graduated from Marlborough High School in 2018, Boyd originally received his certificate of attainment instead of a diploma. This, Boyd said, was because he had
not been able to pass the math MCAS standardized test. 

“When I graduated, I didn’t really care if I got a diploma or an attainment or not,” Boyd told the Community Advocate. “All I really wanted was just to graduate with my peers and just go across this stage. But to get that in my hands after years of waiting to get it, it was just such an overwhelming feeling.”

MCAS cancellation opens door to diploma

Teacher Matthew Sanko, who works with students with what he called “severe special needs,” attributed the change this year to the state changing the requirements for students to get their diploma after the MCAS were canceled due to COVID-19. 

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, students must meet what is called the competency determination standard in order to receive their high school diploma. 

That typically means a student must earn a passing score on the English Language Arts and math MCAS in addition to a passing score on one of the state’s science and engineering and technology tests. 

For the classes of 2021 and 2022, though, students could either pass the MCAS or successfully complete a relevant high school course. 

“Ryan had taken all of the classes,” Sanko said. “He passed them with flying colors.” 

The only piece he was missing in 2018 was passing his math MCAS. 

“The math one was always a struggle, even though I put the time and effort [in] to study for it and get there,” Boyd said.

When the requirements changed, Sanko said the school went through its records and saw that Boyd now met all of the qualifications to get his diploma. 

“I’m really glad that the school would give that to me,” Boyd said. “It’s such an amazing gift, and I’m so proud of that.”


Life post-graduation

As Sanko described it, a certificate of attainment means that the student showed up to school and worked on their skills. 

“It’s typically what they give to students with disabilities,” he said. “It’s for students that haven’t met the criteria for a diploma.”

Because Boyd didn’t have his diploma, he was able to attend Marlborough Public School’s post-graduate program called Learning in Functional Environments Program, or LIFE.

That program helps students with disabilities, ages 18-22, transition to adult living. They learn skills like grocery shopping, money management, how to interview for a job as well as vocational skills. 

“There’s a big emphasis on living in our community, making people aware of people with disabilities and what they’re capable of,” Sanko said.

According to Sanko, a bulk of the program focuses on getting students access to the community through volunteering or community-based internships. 

In a typical year, the students work at places like Christopher Heights assisted living and a farm in Southborough.

“I liked the farm because it was outside, and we got to do a lot of stuff outside,” Boyd said. 

With the pandemic, Sanko said the program’s hands were tied, wondering how they would be able to access the community and maintain their skills. 

Marlborough Public Schools advertised that they were hiring janitors’ helpers at Goodnow Brothers Elementary School. The students interviewed and got the job, including Boyd. 


Boyd’s situation was a ‘perfect storm’

Sanko said he had other students who met the new criteria to receive their diplomas. Not every situation, though, was like Boyd’s

“This sounds great on the surface, but in Massachusetts, once you receive your diploma, you are no longer eligible to receive Special Education services,” Sanko said.

Boyd hit a “perfect storm,” as Sanko called it, “because a diploma is meaningful to him, he wasn’t going to pass MCAS, and he aged out [of LIFE] in January, so there was no threat of services being taken away.”

Now, having received his diploma, Boyd has reflected on the accomplishment.

“No matter who you are, if you have a disability or not, if you have a goal in mind, don’t be afraid to go for that goal,” Boyd said. “Even if people don’t believe you can make that goal, prove them wrong.”


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