Keelin, 39, was part of the 24-person class of inmates at Warren County Regional Jail who attained GED diplomas in the fall.
He's serving a sentence for second-degree assault, first-degree wanton endangerment, intimidating a witness and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, but he hopes to forge a new life when he is released, which he hopes will be in a matter of months.
"I never wanted to get a GED in my life before, I always thought it was impossible to do," Keelin said. "It's opened my eyes up to a different part of me I didn't know I had."
Twelve graduates participated in a commencement ceremony Tuesday at the jail – the other graduates have either been released or transferred to another facility.
The jail has partnered over the last several years with Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College to provide the GED program for inmates at the jail.
Speakers at the ceremony, including Warren County Jailer Jackie Strode, SKYCTC adult education manager Mary Ford and James McCaslin, interim vice president of outreach and community development, urged the new graduates to continue on a productive path outside of jail instead of simply resting on the accomplishment of earning a GED certificate.
"I want to commend you for doing what you've done by earning this," Strode told the graduates. "Keep bettering yourself no matter where you go when you leave here."
The latest graduates are the last who completed the now phased-out written GED exam.
Beginning this year, the GED test is entirely computerized and features more challenging content, Ford said. Where the old test included five categories, the newer format combines the reading and writing portions of the former exam into one English Language Arts category.
"Students will have to know more computer skills," Ford said. "Even the pre-test, which they have to pass first, is all computer based."
o pass the GED, students have to score a total of 2,250 points and achieve an average of 450 points for all categories. Students who did not meet all the requirements before the start of this year lost all the points they had accumulated and will have to start over in the new format.
The cost to take the test also doubled, from $60 to $120.
New graduates, like Keelin, will have their own set of decisions to weigh when they are released.
Keelin's family is in Louisville, including a daughter about to graduate from high school, but he is thinking about moving into a halfway house in Warren County to take advantage of additional educational opportunities and potential job offers. His daughter plans to attend Western Kentucky University, Keelin said, so at least some family will be nearby.
"I'm very happy with how far I've come in my life, but I can't stop here," Keelin said. "Once the mind gets hungry, it wants more."