Between social distancing and quarantining during COVID-19, people have taken up everything from baking bread to paddle boarding to pass the time.
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. used the time to finish high school.
The 46-year-old “America’s Got Talent” winner explained, “I wasn’t going out.”
But he wanted to stay busy — and stay away from everybody else.
Murphy said earning his high school equivalency had been a dream for years, not that not having a high school diploma stopped him from finding work or even sometimes landing good paying jobs.
“When I was doing construction, I made $33 an hour,” the Logan County native said. “I had a good job with Chrysler. I worked in the steel mill. I did all these jobs and made $14 an hour or more, but not having the diploma always bothered me.”
Murphy said not finishing school was like an itch he couldn’t scratch. Because he didn’t have that, he thought less of himself, thought he was less deserving of some things.
Not having that diploma, he explained, was mostly because of circumstances.
Born in West Virginia, Murphy spent the first eight years of his life in Logan but went with his mother and brothers to Detroit after his parents divorced.
In the early 1990s, the singer attended Redford High School in outer Detroit, which was in a distressed and sometimes dangerous neighborhood.
“I was surrounded by gangs,” Murphy said. “We had metal detectors to get into the school and they had a police station in the basement.”
In the 11th grade, he decided he’d had enough and dropped out.
Still intending to finish school eventually, Murphy began taking algebra classes at night, but then he was offered a job with Chrysler.
“I had a son then and began working every day like everybody else,” he said. “I was just living my life, so I quit.”
High points and low points followed after that. By the time he was 19, Murphy was homeless, sleeping in his car and struggling. He left Michigan and returned to West Virginia, where he worked different jobs.
Murphy was working at a car wash in Logan just before winning on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in 2011.
After the talent competition, he considered looking into completing the requirements for his diploma.
“But there just wasn’t time,” he said.
Instead, Murphy had a record deal and a busy schedule of shows across the country and around the world. The pace scarcely slowed down for years.
Then came the pandemic. Live shows and tours everywhere ground to a halt. Theaters closed and, like most other touring performers, Murphy sat at home and waited.
“I wanted things to open back up, but this was the moment,” he said.
With the help of his support team, Murphy signed up to take the Test Assessing Secondary Completion exam (formerly the GED) to earn his high school equivalency.
He took classes and watched a lot of YouTube videos to learn, relearn and refresh his memory.
“Thirty years is a long time to remember algebra,” he said.
Murphy said he didn’t have much trouble with the language and science portions of the course. He got through those subjects pretty easily.
“Science was probably the only class I ever got an A in,” he said.
But it took him three tries to pass the math portion.
“It’s not easy,” the singer said. “You really have to put the time in and study.”
Like singing for a living and making records, earning his high school equivalency was the achievement of another longtime dream for Murphy. He hoped it would inspire others to “just get the knowledge thing.”
Murphy wasn’t sure if further education was in his future. A college degree was never really something he wanted unless it led to a chance to play in the NBA.
Laughing, Murphy said that at 46 that was maybe a long shot.