Dustin Kirkpatrick, a dispatcher/jailer/reserve deputy at the Oregon County Sheriff's Department, learned the significance of having a high school diploma the hard way.
"I didn't finish high school," Kirkpatrick said. "I got my GED. I had been working as a city worker for Mammoth Spring prior to that."
"I was always good in school, but I never did like school at all," Kirkpatrick said. He said he decided to drop out and start work at a job.
"I didn't realize that the smartest thing would have been for me to stay in school," he said. "It's a lot harder to (get an education) when you're older. Now, I'm married and I've got a daughter, so it makes (getting a degree) a lot harder."
When Kirkpatrick was 16, he worked at the Alton Fire Department. He became a medical first responder with the ambulance service and wanted to become an EMT or paramedic. However, to take the classes one would have to either have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Kirkpatrick didn't have either one but he was determined to get his GED and continue his education. After he received his GED, Kirkpatrick changed his career and decided he wanted to work in law enforcement.
Kirkpatrick has now served at the sheriff's department for about seven years and started dispatching when he was 18. "(Law enforcement) has always interested me ever since I was real little," he said.
He's had quite a bit of family support, too. "I've got quite a few relatives who are involved in law enforcement," Kirkpatrick said. He said he has a few uncles and cousins in Oregon and neighboring counties who are police officers.
Kirkpatrick said having some of his family members in law enforcement has helped him with his own career in law enforcement. "You get to hear stories from them and get their side of it (the story) and learn from their experiences," Kirkpatrick said.
He said he graduated from the police academy in June 2008 and became a reserve deputy. Kirkpatrick said he is continuing his education by taking classes at the Drury University campus in Thayer to receive his associate's in criminal justice-psychology.
He said after he graduates from Drury, he plans to become a full-time patrolman and perhaps continue his education in law enforcement by getting a bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice.
"I would definitely, definitely stay in school," Kirkpatrick said to any high schooler who may be thinking about dropping out. "No matter how hard it is, you hear it (the phrase) over and over. It's harder (to learn) when you get older. There's some people who they wouldn't even go back to school because it's too hard on them now. But, you've actually got it made when you're younger. The best thing is to finish school. Education means everything nowadays."