My journey began in 1987 when I first started college at Temple University. I was a mediocre student but always felt drawn to the field of communications. As an Advertising major, I enjoyed being creative. However, the other classes were not very interesting to me. I fell short in attaining the minimum requirements to maintain a required grade point average. I was informed that I couldn’t enroll in any more classes. I was devastated.
Fast forward to 1995, I decided that I would go back to school to redo those core classes that I fell short in achieving a minimum grade of C or higher. I enrolled in Community College of Philadelphia. My focus was that I wouldobtain nothing less than an A in those classes. After taking 6 classes, I was successful in achieving A’s in all of them. This was truly motivating and I aspired to continue with my goals. However, life set me in on a different path. My husband and I had our first child in 1996. A year and a half after I started back at school. I continued with classes until I was no longer able to maintain the rigorous schedule of working full time and going to school. Due to pregnancy restrictions, I was placed on bed rest prior to my delivery. That put finishing my degree on hold for 5 more years.
The next step toward finishing my degree was in 2001. After our second child was born, I felt the desire to finally finish that degree that I started in 1987. I enrolled an accelerated degree program at The University of Phoenix. Having two children, working full time, and a husband that travelled every other week made it difficult to continue with the program. I received an A in the first class that I taken but had to withdraw. Once again, I was disappointed that I could not continue with my goal.
After reaching a low point in my self esteem and career goals in 2012, I decided that 2013 would be the year for a new improved version of me. I was in a position that I did not enjoy and felt as though I had reached a glass ceiling. I was not able to move forward without acquiring my degree. On our internal website at my employer Independence Blue Cross, I read a notice regarding a program that was offered to all associates. Graduate Philadelphia was a program that helped adults to finish their degrees. This was a sign. After discussing my goals with my family, I made an appointment to speak with a counselor to get started. Since I had earned at least 80-90 course credits in my past college experiences, I was a closer to completing my degree than I had realized. My counselor help me to find the right match for my needs and assisted in getting me started in the right program.
I’m currently in my fourth semester at Thomas Edison State College. It is an online program that I can access on my own time. It is flexible and allows me to schedule time to focus on my studies. Online courses are not for everyone. In order to meet my goals of being an A student and keep up with the course requirements, I had to learn to discipline myself with a set schedule for studies. The first semester was very overwhelming but once I got started in my routine, it became much easier. Without a routine, it would be difficult to keep up with assignments. Reading the syllabus and due date calendar is very important ensure that assignments are submitted on time. My counselor has checked in with me every few months to see how things are going and to ensure that I’m still on track with my goals. He has offered assistance in helping me with different seminars that are available through Graduate Philadelphia. This experience has been truly rewarding.
In 2014, I will have 12 credits left to finish my degree. I’m very excited about obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. I’ve worked for over 20 years to get to here and I’m looking forward to celebrating my success with my family and friends. Without the support of my husband and children, I would not have been able to achieve my goals. I am truly thankful for the Graduate Philadelphia program for helping me get there. This experience has made me understand that even though we are presented with challenges in our daily lives, our goals and dreams are attainable. We just have to be sure to persevere and keep our focus on that goal.
The staff at Graduate! Philadelphia as well as the instructors and advisors at Neumann University offered me continuous encouragement, critical positive reviews and rewarding information. After I received my Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts, I changed careers from secretarial/administrative duties to my first dream of coaching and tutoring women to become self-sufficient in mind, body, and soul.
Mayor Nutter, on February 3, 2009, clearly articulated my thoughts and how I feel about adults achieving their fullest educational potential when he stated, “we must encourage our city’s young people and adults to reach higher and get their college degrees. Their academic achievement is important to their own lives and our community as a whole.” At that moment Graduate! Philadelphia’s information flashed on the screen. That’s when I knew I needed to contact them.
In spite of having received two associates degrees; the first in Business Management, the second in Early Childhood Education I continued to feel incomplete. However, enrolling at Neumann University was challenging but the awarding of my Bachelor’s degree broke the stigma I was experiencing by not having a full degree.
One of the greatest challenges was the distance to Neumann’s main campus from my home in Northwest Philadelphia and my fulltime job with the School District of Philadelphia. Neumann is located in Delaware County. Their main campus which all undergraduates must attend is in Ashton, PA. I attended the main campus for two years in the evening from 6PM-10PM two nights per week.
Initially, I drove 45 minutes to one hour each way until my car broke down midway through the second semester. I didn’t have the money to repair the car. I had a big decision to make. How would I get to school? Was I dedicated and strong enough to continue? I had no choice but to continue on the journey to complete my quest for a Bachelor’s Degree. My only recourse was to use SEPTA ground and regional rail line, Now I was twice as nervous as I was when I drove from Northwest Philadelphia to I-95 trying different routes, stuck in traffic, looking out for the state police and crazy drivers. My travel time increased to two hours each way. I rode from a bus in Northwest Phila, to the regional rail line in Center City to Chester, PA where I boarded the only bus going directly into Neumann’s main campus.
I often felt like the postman traveling through rain, sleet or snow to succeed in my journey to complete my college education and I did all the way to my Master’s!
With Mayor Nutter’s words in mind and G!P’s encouragement, I returned to Neumann University and enrolled in their Graduate Education Program. I received my Master of Science in Education in March 2013. My family was ecstatic and I was happy, proud and joyous that my degree journey was complete.
Michael Johnson, a Graduate! Philadelphia Comebacker won Philadelphia University’s student speaker competition and addressed his fellow graduates at the 2011 Philadelphia University Commencement ceremony. Mr. Johnson spoke to more than 4,000 people at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on May 15, 2011. Mr. Johnson finished his degree after more than 20 years. Here is the full text of his speech:
“Greetings President Spinelli, Dr. Blank, Honored Guests, Administrators, Faculty, Family, Friends, Alumni and fellow graduates.
“My name is Michael Johnson. I’m a non-traditional, 43-year-old graduating student in the Accelerated Behavioral Health and Science Program. It was not an easy decision to come back to school. To say I had anxiety is to put it lightly. Balancing family life, a full-time job and other numerous responsibilities, school seemed like a gigantic undertaking. And as you know, it was.
“However, from the moment I started my first class, I became inspired. I was inspired by my family because without their love and constant support, I wouldn’t be standing here. I was inspired by my instructors; they opened my mind to new worlds and possibilities. I became inspired by my fellow students; to work with so many different types of people on such a variety of projects greatly expanded my social and personal skills. I’ve truly made good friends here.
“I am inspired by you — Class of 2011! I truly feel that if we could accomplish so much by working together in a classroom imagine what we will do in society as college graduates?
“When I look out at the beautiful sea of caps and gowns I don’t just see graduates, I see the sacrifices you’ve made to be here. I know these sacrifices firsthand. I see countless hours of study groups, numerous sleepless nights worrying about exams, missing birthday parties because you have a project due, lost time with friends and family because you’ve have a chapters to read and papers to write.
“Well graduates, you’ve mastered Blackboard, conquered Power Point, completed the final assignment and won the war of passing your hardest class. Graduates, you’ve crossed the finish line! Today we recognize what you’ve sacrificed and applaud your accomplishments!
“Now we enter the world as college graduates. Our world is one of a throwaway culture, where who’s walking the red carpet is more pressing than our troubled economy, where a celebutant’s rehabilitation is more newsworthy than rising unemployment. We are living in an age of companies closing, people losing their homes and children being lost to the streets.
“As students, we have proven that we can collaborate to tackle projects and achieve goals. As graduates, we have an obligation to take the skills, education and knowledge we’ve gained here at Philadelphia University and apply it not only to the empowerment of ourselves, but to the enrichment of our society.
“Through innovation and collaboration we can enhance existing jobs and create new ones. We can work to create safer environments, where community centers replace boarded-up buildings, where “Grand Opening” signs are more common than “Going out of Business” signs, where fashion is as green as the money designers are making, where children can play in front of their homes, instead of being afraid to go outside. All it takes is a little inspiration, collaboration and innovation. I propose to accomplish this that we consider “The improvement of life” as the next group project.
“During my first semester, my nephew who had graduated high school years earlier, started asking questions about what it was like coming back to school after so many years, like are you the oldest in the class? Are the exams really hard? After several conversations and encouraging words, he made a choice to go back to school.
“In that moment I realized that my educational journey is not mine alone. Our educational journey affects people. Everyone you share your story with is affected by you.
“You have an opportunity to inspire people; you have an opportunity to motivate people. Even the ones you don’t think are paying attention are affected by your decision to earn your degree. Some of us will use our degrees for promotions, raises and professional advancement. I am challenging you to do more. I am challenging you to be that opportunity for someone.
“Be an inspiration to that young person, be a motivator for a friend, talk to a parent or grandparent who feels that education is not attainable for them. We are living proof that it can be done whether you’re fresh out of high school or approaching retirement.
“Be an example in your community by sharing the limitless benefits of education. We can be that bridge for someone to reach their educational goals. One conversation can motivate, inspire and create change by simply telling your story. As Gandhi so eloquently said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I challenge you to be that change.
“Thank you so much and congratulations’ class of 2011! I celebrate you!”
I have been trying to get back to school to complete my degree since 2005. I didn’t know which school to attend, what area to study, or how I would pay for it. All I knew was that I wanted to go back and finish this time. I attended countless college fairs, and I was searching online to find out how to do this and who to talk to, but there is much less information on going to college directed towards adult students than there is for traditional-age students. No one would really help me.
Luckily, one day there was a presentation by Graduate! Philadelphia in the office where I work. I work for the Revenue Department of the City of Philadelphia. I met a Graduate! Philadelphia advisor there and he’s been stuck with me for the past year!
I was an animal science major when I started school the first time and wanted initially to go back to that field of study.My advisor did tons of research to find out how I could continue those studies while still working fulltime but there just wasn’t a program that fit these criteria, so I decided to change my major and look into accounting and business management. I’m a science and math person so I’m now sticking with the math one, and it is truly what I now want. I know it’s going to work.
CCP has a really good business administration program, plus my Graduate! advisor and the Community College of Philadelphia advisor thought I would be a good candidate for CCP’s MyDegreeNow scholarship. To apply for it, you have to have been out of school for two years, have at least 30 transferable credits and a certain GPA from past courses. I met all of those criteria so I applied, and then I got it! The scholarship covers all of my tuition and main expenses for an Associates’ from CCP.
I just registered for class. It was the best registration ever. I have never been so excited to register for classes as I was the other day. I would not have been able to find out about this opportunity or how to go through the process of going back to school if it wasn’t for Graduate! Philadelphia. They helped me with every step I had to take to get here. I am so grateful they are here, and for this incredible opportunity.
When I told a former co-worker that I would really like to go back to school, she highly recommended the Graduate! Philadelphia program. She told me that they were located near the Gallery mall in center city Philadelphia and that they would help me with applying for financial aid and provide other valuable assistance – and their services were free! If Graduate! Philadelphia provided that one service alone, I would have been extremely grateful. All of the procedures involved with applying for financial aid were more intimidating to me than returning to La Salle University after my decades of absence.
I watched the Graduate! Philadelphia video on their website and I was instantly impressed and inspired. It felt good to know that this organization existed to help adults like myself who wanted to return to school, but who are unsure of how to make it happen. When I called, I talked to a wonderful person named Sarah Byker James. We talked about my goals and she told me how Graduate! Philadelphia could help me. I made an appointment to meet her. There were many, very real, factors to consider, including balancing a full-time job with school work and the lack of encouragement from someone in my life, but when I thought it was impossible, Sarah helped me to sort things out. With Graduate! Philadelphia’s help, I had begun!
My return to school was both emotional and dramatic. I was amazed at the joy I felt just walking on campus again to my first class – and soon I was amazed also at how unexpected challenges could hit so soon. I had a potentially major conflict with an instructor. I called Graduate! Philadelphia. Sarah told me previously that if I had issues with teachers, she would be willing to help in any way she could. I can’t tell you the relief I felt knowing that was true and being able to tell Sarah what had happened. So much changes when you know someone is on your side and wants victory for you. It is so much easier to regain your sense of balance and peace of mind.
Sarah listened with a very sympathetic ear and voiced just what I was thinking, “You do not need this in your first week back!” Sarah proceeded to calm me down and coached me through writing a forthright, yet tactful, e-mail to my Professor. She reminded me to include in the e-mail that I had looked forward to this class, which made what happened even more startling. With Sarah’s help, I ended the e-mail in such a way that it invited his reply, without assumption on my part. The Professor replied to me apologizing sincerely, and then he apologized to the whole class because the issue affected all of us. This could have easily gone in another direction if I didn’t have Sarah at Graduate! Philadelphia to lean on for help and I let Sarah know it! This was just one of many times that Graduate! Philadelphia helped me in many ways.
Another example is the excellent seminar that Laticia Booker presented at Graduate! Philadelphia which helped me with the inevitable increase in stress levels. But as Laticia showed us, there were solutions for this as well.
Don’t think it’s too late. When I came to Graduate! Philadelphia for help, I had been out of school for decades and they helped me to graduate. There was a lot to be done, including lining up the financing then balancing a full-time job with school work, but it made all the difference that I did not have to go on this journey alone. I cannot describe the exhilaration that my graduation from college made me feel, then and now! I also joined the team of Advisors at Graduate! Philadelphia, helping other adults achieve their college education goals.
So if you are thinking about returning to school, don’t focus on all the reasons why you, or others, think you can’t. Contact Graduate! Philadelphia and let us help you see a variety of solutions and all the reasons why you can! Don’t put off your dreams. Don’t postpone your joy. You’ve waited long enough.
I completed my Associates from the Community College of Philadelphia and this fall I’m attending Chestnut Hill College to get my bachelors degree in Human Services. Then I want to continue on to get my masters. Ultimately, I want to open my own nonprofit organization that focuses on helping those who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions and other debilitating issues that prevent them from being all that they can be.
I work for the City of Philadelphia License and Inspections, in the Streets Department. A few months ago coworkers suggested that I talk to the city employee liaison for the Mayor’s Office of Education. She gave me Graduate! Philadelphia’s card. I called and came in for an appointment with Laticia Booker. The environment was really open and friendly and very professional. I told her what I had done and where I wanted to go and Tish got things rolling immediately.
At Graduate! Philadelphia I met with April Fowlkes, the advisor from Chestnut Hill College who is a very positive person and who encouraged me throughout the process. After meeting with April I was ready to apply. Now, the only thing holding me back is the financial aspect. I’m unable to get Pell, PHEAA or loans right now because my account is flagged in the financial aid system for pending default on previous loans. I have over $40,000 of loans from my first try at college twenty years ago. They have been in deferment but now I have to work out a payment plan or try to consolidate them with new loans.
Once that is taken care of though, I will be eligible for Pell and PHEAA grants, and through my job I get 25% off tuition. Plus, since I graduated from CCP with a GPA above 3.5, I am also eligible for a 25% discount. I’m trying to use both discounts, but they may only let me use one.
Tish has also helped me find and apply for private scholarships. I recently was awarded the Richard Ash scholarship, which is $4,000. Writing my essay for the scholarship was therapeutic in itself, and it motivated me even more to get my degree. When I found out that I got it, that I was a Richard-A scholar, I bawled my eyes out. I’m 42 years-old and I’m a scholar? I was so happy I called Tish up and asked her to join me at the scholarship reception. I can’t wait until I have enough money to donate back to the Richard Ash scholarship fund to help another person coming up behind me.
What I have learned in this process is that you have to be self-disciplined to get where you want to go. And I learned that hope is real. You have to surround yourself with positive, genuine people. You can’t remain a victim for the rest of your life. When you become free from the past and take responsibility for life, everything opens up for you. You are no longer bound to what happened. You are free.
I started going to Temple University in 1989 but had to leave to help out at home when my father passed and my mother was ill. To help with money I took a job as a Philadelphia Corrections Officer.
Almost twenty years later, I walked into Graduate! Philadelphia. I was supporting my friend Mataz Hall who wanted to go back to school. We ended up sitting down with an advisor from Chestnut hill College, and by the end of the meeting I was signing up to apply for admission.
Everything fell into place after that. I entered the fulltime accelerated program at Chestnut Hill College in August 2008 and graduated in December 2010. The transition back to school was not as stressful as I thought it would be. It was hard as I struggled medically and academically during my first semester, but the help and support from Chestnut Hill College and Graduate! Philadelphia made it manageable.
My first semester here I got a C in sociology. I decided to not let that discourage me but to use that as motivation to go after what I really wanted. I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude, and with membership in three honor societies: Alpha Sigma Lambda (National Honor Society for Adult Learners); Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Scholastic Honor Society for Colleges with a Catholic Tradition); and Psi Chi (International Honor Society in Psychology). I want to eventually practice holistic psychology, which involves motivational therapy for individuals and organizations.
When I graduated, I wanted to celebrate with my nine-year-old daughter and with my whole community. So many people have been a part of this experience. I felt like the degree belonged to all of us, so I created a banner that I hung outside of my home. It read "Thank you God! Through You, all things are possible. Finally I am a College Graduate! To mom- I kept my word. I miss you dearly and love you always. To my daughter, you inspired me to do this. I am grateful and so proud of you. To my family, friends, and neighbors, thanks for being my "village." I share my joy with you. At 39 years old, it's never too late. What a phenomenal journey!"
I gained far more than a degree from this. I gained self confidence, a better image of myself and connections with amazing, positive people.
What I would say to others who are starting this journey is to think about what excites you, what lights you up and go after it. I'd say that your concerns are normal, that the hardest step is the first, and that if you go after personal satisfaction and fulfillment your grades will follow. You have to encourage yourself and believe that you will graduate.
I had been unemployed for several years due to a back injury I got from my last (highly paid) job. I took a job as a school janitor to pay the bills, but it was at such low pay, with no benefits, and was far from being my dream job that I realized I had to make a change. I don’t want to take another entry level job; I want to do more meaningful work. So I got the ball rolling to go back to school.
I was also very inspired by Barak Obama. He had dropped out of college. Like me, he was not enjoying it the first time around and wasn’t applying himself to the work. But a little later he straightened up and went back to Columbia undergrad and then Harvard grad school.
When I came to Graduate! Philadelphia, I didn’t have a computer or internet at home, so I was able to use their computers to do internet searches and fill out online forms. Working with them, I was able to waive application fees, and start to figure out what I wanted to study and pursue career-wise.
At the Graduate! Philadelphia center, I met with the advisor from Chestnut Hill College. I had a good interview with her, liked what I heard about the college and liked that it was near where I was living. But then, when I was about to leave, an advisor from Penn State Abington approached me and told me that they had a program that offered exactly what I was looking for. We spoke further and then I knew it was a good fit. It was a real gift to have the opportunity to speak with both representatives. Just those conversations helped motivate me further to keep going since there were people who were interested in helping me get to where I wanted to go in life.
I now have a 3.97 GPA (got my first B last semester) and am really enjoying my classes. It’s fulfilling to be back in school. In my former job, I was treated as though I didn’t have much of a brain or I would be asked for ideas and input and never given credit. I feel more confidence now knowing I can still do good work in school and get good grades. I was even just invited to join the Penn State honors program, which offers scholarship money every semester. Hopefully, this will help me be able to study abroad this fall in England or in Sweden next Spring.
Finding the money to go to school has been and continues to be the biggest challenge for me. This is the last semester that I can use the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grant to help cover tuition since I had used PHEAA money the first time I went to college. I’m taking out loans and pursuing scholarships to cover the costs, but each semester it’s still a challenge. My financial aid officer and Graduate! Philadelphia advisor have been doing all they can to help me identify scholarships.
When I had to stop working due to my back, it was a blessing in disguise. Now I can finally start doing something worthwhile. I wish I had turned my life around years ago to pursue other interests I had, like medicine. But I’m glad to now have a chance to do something useful; to secure a job with a path, not a dead end.
I got tired of working retail so I decided to go back to school and get my bachelors degree. I want to expand my skills and then be able to put them to good use.
I was drawn to Peirce College for their business school. Other colleges in the area do not put as much emphasis on business education, or they have a broader focus. Peirce is oriented towards business and offers a number of different specialized business degrees, and they offer accelerated programs. After I graduate next year I hope to work for the government.
I first heard about Graduate! Philadelphia from a TV commercial where Mayor Nutter mentioned the new adult education initiatives in the city. I came in and Graduate! Philadelphia got the ball rolling right away. With their help I was able to transfer in my past credits from CCP and Temple, and apply for federal loans to pay for tuition and books.
Graduate! Philadelphia is a very hands-on type of organization, they will help you in every way possible to go back to school. But you have to have tenacity to stay with it, push for it. It won’t just fall into your pocket.
Going back and getting a degree to get a better job is not so much about the money for me, it’s about getting a job that I can really contribute to and make a difference in. It’s less a question about money and more of what are you going to do in life?