HATTIESBURG - More than 50 students clad in maroon robes spontaneously stood and applauded as Peggy Welsh came forward to receive her GED certificate Saturday.The 72-year-old great-grandmother from Petal served as an inspiration to many of the students in the free General Educational Development program at Pearl River Community College for almost two years.Welsh quit school more than 50 years ago, raised children and spent a lifetime working as a waitress and restaurant cook. She went back to school in 2008 to get the GED certificate."I''ve always wanted to get it," she said. "It took me four semesters to get my math. It was all Greek to me. I passed all the other parts the first time."Welsh is one of 288 students who earned the GED certificate in the past year through the free preparation classes at PRCC.Graduation speaker Geneva Leggett of Hattiesburg enrolled in the program several times before sticking with it and earning her certificate in 2008."I wanted to better myself but I didn''t have the self motivation I needed," she said. "When I received my GED, I looked at it as a starting point in my life."Leggett received the associate''s degree from PRCC in December and plans to go on to Auburn or Louisiana State University. Her long-range plans include law school.Leggett serves as an example for the new GED graduates, said PRCC President Dr. William Lewis."This is a jumping-off place," he said. "This is a starting point in your educational career. I want to commend you on where you are today. We''re counting on you to be a success story."Amber Hobson of Petal and Cara Larsen of Poplarville were recognized for perfect scores on at least one of the five parts of the GED test. Larsen also had the highest average score.The PRCC adult education program is open to anyone 17 years old and older and is free. The only cost is $40 for the GED test, and assistance is available for those who can''t pay the fee. Classes meet at varying times at locations throughout PRCC''s six-county district.Graduates who participated in the ceremony at Temple Baptist Church East in Hattiesburg are listed by hometowns:Carriere - Karen Poppler and Misty Suazo.Columbia - Nicholas Colvin, Kali Oliver, Erin Porche, Mary Rainey and Cory Rhoden.Diamondhead - Belinda Schumaker.Foxworth - Patrick Regan.Hattiesburg - Domanec Dancy, Kimberly Evans, Joseph Gillies, Virena Hammond, Nathaniel Harris, Sedrick Mobley, Denzel Nash, Mason Nelson, Breanna Pittman, Jennifer Polk, Stacey Rose and LaPorcha Stewart.Jayess - Juangielle Dillon, Memory Wallen, Malcom Ward and Samantha Webb.Kiln - Eric Benoit.Lumberton - Dempsey Beach Jr., Kimberly Beach, James Lee and Jeanna Sumrall.McNeill - Angel Grice.Oakvale - Carolyn Fortenberry.Perkinston - Renee Holder.Petal - Amber Hobson, Ashley Parker, Danielle Stalnaker, Peggy Welsh and Micah Williamson.Picayune - Angela Bourgeois, Angela Esteve, Nichole Gomillion, Paula Jenkins, Dustin Nave, Althea Ramsey and Elizabeth Seal.Poplarville - Consuela Authement, Christian Collier, Cara Larsen, Bianca Pullens and William Strahan.Prentiss - Kathryn Gatwood and Ron Strickland.Purvis - Benjamin Guy and Julie Linares.Sumrall - Casey Johnson.Waveland - Quinton Colson Sr. and Laura Redmon.