BUFORD - More than three decades ago, Quang Huynh lost everything.
In 1975, Huynh was a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese police force. It was a turbulent time in his country, as the United States stopped its efforts to curtail communism in the region while the North Vietnamese forces marched on and took Saigon.
Huynh had a good life in Vietnam, but his story changed. He was captured by communist forces and was incarcerated as a prisoner of war for nearly a decade.
After his imprisonment, the former math teacher had a scar on his shoulder from where he was shot but little to show for his earlier success - not even his high school diploma, one of the many documents that was lost.
Now, 17 years after Huynh came to the United States as a refugee and settled in the Atlanta area, he can hang his diploma on his wall.
Huynh recently received his high school diploma from Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School. It wasn't an easy feat, as he had to take the test three times.
"Math, social studies, science - OK," said Huynh, whose English skills are limited. "Writing skills, English - fail, fail."
Although there have been reports of people having trouble enrolling in college because many institutions don't recognize a degree from Cornerstone Christian, the degree allowed Huynh to take the state board exam so he could become licensed to do nails at his wife's salon in Alpharetta.
Huynh said he's not through learning, either. He said he still studies English at home.
The Duluth resident works as a custodian at Glenn C. Jones Middle School in Buford. Principal Richard Holland said Huynh's story illustrates how persistence can help people overcome all kinds of obstacles.
"If you look at the long history and station of life he and his wife had in Vietnam and what they lost, I think it's remarkable what they've overcome - coming here and starting from scratch," Holland said.
"We're very proud of him," he added. "Even without the diploma, we were proud of him."