Graduate shows its never too late to earn degree

Published 12:21 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

It’s graduation time. High school graduations. Middle school graduations. Elementary graduations. Kindergarten graduations. College graduations. Graduations, graduations, graduations. It’s graduation time.

I was the commencement speaker at a kindergarten graduation, but I’m not going to write about that graduation. I attended an elementary school graduation, a first grade graduation, a second grade graduation and a community college graduation, but I am not writing about these graduations. I am writing about one graduate, an extraordinary graduate. It’s graduation time.

This graduation story commenced in 1951, nearly 65 years ago. The graduate was one of eight children — seven born in the marriage of Elvira Harrel and Arthur Coleman Sr. and one outside the marriage. Seven of the children, a mother and a father, lived in a three room shotgun house — a kitchen, a middle room and a front room — in Marion Junction. The graduate’s family was not just poor; they were “po.”

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The graduate graduated from high school in 1969. All through school she was an honor roll student and wanted to go to college. However, there was no one to help her. She says that “po children were treated differently.” No teacher encouraged her. No parent encouraged her. No one encouraged her. She did not go to college, but the dream of a college education stayed in her heart.

After graduation, the graduate went to work in a factory, Ames Bag and Packaging, in Marion, where she worked for more than five years. Then she left for Tampa, Florida, where she worked in a fish processing plant for some months. She returned to Dallas County and went back to Ames Bag and Packaging for about six months. In January 1977, she was hired as a file clerk by the Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm. The dream of a college education stayed in her heart.

The graduate rose from file clerk to secretary to paralegal to office manager. She was hardworking, smart, knowledgeable, skilled and honest. She married and raised two male children to manhood. She owned her own home and car. She strongly urged her children to attend college. One did, and one did not. She was very educated, in fact, but without formal college education. But the dream of a college education stayed in her heart.

The graduate retired from Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders in 2006 after 29 years. She could not sit around, so she went to work for Selma Legal Services as a paralegal. After eight years, she retired a second time. She was skilled and educated but she was not college educated. The dream of a college education stayed in her heart.

In 2012, in her 61st year of life, the graduate was helping her son to register for courses at Wallace Community College Selma. She mentioned her long-held desire to get a college education. A person in the registration office said, “If you are really interested, I will give you all the information. You can go to college free on the Senior Program.” The dream buried in her heart for more than 43 years burst forth. But it was still a dream.

Many encouraged the graduate this time. Her husband, Thomas Sr., who was her high school classmate, said, “You always were the smartest girl in our class.” Her mother, Elvira Harrell, who could not help her 47 years ago, was very excited. Her two sons, Wesley and Thomas Jr., were overjoyed. So were many others, including all of us at Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders and Legal Services.

It was hard being a college student, a mother, a wife, a full time worker and an active person in the Selma community. Also, she helped take care of her mother who lived with her. But the graduate kept going. A couple of times she had to take time off from college but she kept coming back. She reduced her academic load, stretching college out over additional years. She kept working to make the dream a reality.

On Friday, May 13, 2016, the graduate, Josephine Coleman Curtis, walked proudly across the stage at Wallace Community College Selma. There was some gray in her hair. There were a few wrinkles in her face. Her 65th birthday would arrive in a month or so. But there was youth in her walk, a beam in her face, a spirit in in her being. She was so proud, and we were so proud with her. She graduated with honors and a 3.69 grade point average. Her dream had become her reality. It was graduation time.

“I have my associate’s degree in business,” Josephine said.

“But I have no plans to use my degree. My dream was to get my degree, and I got it.” After so many years, her dream was now her reality at nearly 65 years of age. It’s graduation time.

It is amazing what we can accomplish if we are persistent over time. A little here and a little there can create a lot in the long run. However, we have to keep our vision — our dream — in our heart.