CHURUBUSCO — Amanda Ratton, 36, is now a high school graduate, 19 years after dropping out, thanks in part to the Archways to Opportunity program from McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has been a consistent thread through Ratton’s life, having worked there since she was 14 years old and now working as a manager for the restaurant’s Churubusco location. Almost two years ago, this employment became her ticket to the high school diploma that had long since eluded her as she enrolled in the Career Online High School.

From there, Ratton threw herself into her studies, tasked with completing four years of high school in less than half the time, while still working full-time for McDonald’s.

“I would come to work, come home and work until two or three in the morning, get a couple hours of sleep and do it all over again,” Ratton said. “It was hard work, but the feeling you get out of it was a little more than I originally thought it would.”

All that hard work eventually paid off, and Ratton graduated with a 3.1 GPA and an eye toward the next step: college.

“It’s hit me but it hasn’t with everything else I’m going through right now,” Ratton said. “But now I can actually hit that checkmark that I’m a high school graduate.”

Ratton is the first employee at the Churubusco McDonald’s to graduate from the program, but the owner, Dick Littlefield, noted that there were a few other employees on their way to their own diplomas. Education, Littlefield added, has been a key focus of the McDonald’s brand for years, offering as much as $3,000 for managers and $2,500 for crew members to attend college.

For Littlefield, no one is more deserving of that support than Ratton.

“We’re so proud of Amanda,” Littlefield said at Ratton’s graduation celebration on Jan. 8. “She worked so hard and she’s done it and we’re going to still be a part of her life.”

During those 20 months of juggling school and work, Ratton also found time to be a mother to her three daughters and set an example of hard work and achievement for them.

“They would see me work every day come home do my schooling every day,” Ratton said. “The kids are getting older and I kept saying they have to graduate. If I can’t graduate myself how am I supposed to tell my kids to graduate?”

One of her kids, Chasta Ratton, will actually be receiving her own high school diploma from Churubusco Jr.-Sr. High School in May, offering a unique experience for mother and daughter as they both prepare for college endeavors, Amanda at Ivy Tech Community College and Chasta at either Grace College or Trine University.

“It’s definitely weird,” Chasta said. “But I’m extremely proud of her for doing it and I make fun of her all the time for it asking her how it feels to be graduating with her daughter.”

Ivy Tech may be the next destination for Ratton, but when asked by Littlefield if she’d stick around and work with McDonald’s she assured him she wasn’t going anywhere just yet.

As the next chapter awaits her and her family, she encourages others who were in her position to take the challenge and get their own diplomas.

“If it’s a goal, do it,” Ratton said. “It might be hard at first but once you get going…it’s an accomplishment and the feeling that you can say you actually did it, just at your own pace.”