Linda Wilson and Kelvin Bright are examples of the diversity among the 2,664 students receiving bachelor's degrees at the University of Kentucky commencement at 2 p.m. Saturday. Long past their 20s, they took a different path than many to arrive here.
Linda Wilson: Social work major wants to be 'mother to every child'
Linda Wilson used to roll pennies to get gas money to get to college.
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Before that, the Paris resident, 48, remembers sitting in her car on Limestone between jobs cleaning houses and thinking about the University of Kentucky. She wondered whether she would ever be a student there. Could she get an education there?
On Saturday, the 1979 graduate of Nicholas County High School, will become a 2010 graduate of UK.
After having two sons — the elder nicknamed her "the warden" because of her parenting style — Wilson was making a bed at a house in Andover when Jennie Budden, who owns the house with her husband, Harry, an attorney, told her, "You're going back to school."
The Buddens gave Wilson a computer and helped her financially. Wilson started with an associate's degree concentrating on computer skills.
Then Wilson decided that she wanted to become a social worker. By this time she was cleaning the house of Jim Clark and Liz Croney. Clark is a professor of social work at UK and Croney heads Croney & Clark, a company they started to help provide social services for children and their families.
"I had no idea what they did," Wilson said.
When Croney found out what Wilson was studying, she asked: "Would you like some experience?"
Wilson, a two-time recipient of the UK Woman's Club Scholarship, is grateful to the people she worked for who helped buy her books and give her gas money.
She's also grateful for two people at UK: social work professor Marie-Antoinette Sossou — "Dr. Sossou was like a mother to me" — and Beth Mills, an instructor who Wilson calls "a good person with a good heart."
Some of Wilson's most treasured possessions are two dimes decorated with stickers that a child in foster care gave her as a gift. Wilson is trying to figure out a way to put them on her cap or gown, in honor of her commitment to helping children.
Her own children are Nick, 21, whom his mother proudly notes is on a full academic scholarship at the University of Louisville, and Tristan, 13, a middle school student who recently scored well in the Duke Talent Search.
There's also one thing Wilson is getting Saturday that she never thought she would get during those days of sitting on Limestone wondering whether she could negotiate a campus as big as her hometown of Carlisle: a bachelor's degree.
Says Wilson: "No one can take an education from you."
She is still considering her future. She might continue in social work, or go to law school to become an attorney and advocate for children.
"My calling was to bring about change to help children," Johnson said. "I believe I was put on this earth to be a mother to every child."University of Kentucky student Kelvin Bright, 47, gets up very early and often works very late.
Kelvin bright: Boundless energy helps him succeed the second time
University of Kentucky student Kelvin Bright, 47, gets up very early and often works very late.
Some nights, he says, he might get only one or two hours of sleep.
He works full-time at UK's Physical Plant starting at 2:30 or 3:30 a.m., depending on his class schedule, so he can get in a full day's work every day. In the afternoons, he volunteers in the day care center at his church's mission on Race Street. And sometimes when he has time, he also cleans offices.
Got to pay the bills, he says, shrugging. You do what you have to do.
Part of what makes all of that work worth it will come Saturday, when Bright gets his bachelor of arts in political science from UK.
It's been a long time coming, and that makes the accomplishment even sweeter for Bright: "I'm very proud of myself. I try to be humble about it, but I'm very happy with myself. ... I just stay focused and stay on the path."
And he wishes he could make today's high school graduates understand what he has learned: That it's all about getting the education to have a career instead of a job that's just enough to make ends meet, that bouncing from low-paying job to low-paying job is not a life plan, that education is the way out and up.
A 1981 graduate of Bryan Station High School, Bright says that during his first time at UK starting in 1982 — he lasted fewer than three semesters — he lacked academic focus and spent more time on the social parts of college life. "You know how teen-agers are," he said.
But starting in the 1990s, Bright said, he began to understand what he had missed in not getting his degree.
When he started classes in 1982, Bright said, he thought he was interested in fashion merchandising. Finding those classes not to his liking, he later decided to major in political science, which he likes because of its methodical study of historical trends.
This semester he studied sports psychology, which has sparked his desire to help children eat better and be more physically active.
In 2006, Bright applied for a job in UK's utility/custodial division; while he was delighted to have UK benefits, especially health insurance, the job came with a benefit that he didn't know about: free classes at UK.
Bright was paying to take courses.
He couldn't believe his luck.
Bright credits his co-workers and supervisors at UK and his friend, the Rev. Michael Wilson, with whom he works at Faith Imani Center Baptist Church, who has sometimes chipped in for his textbooks.
"He tells me all the time it took me 40 years to get my degree," Bright said.
Regina Sharp, who works at the day care with Bright, admires his energy: "He's going and going and going," she said. "He's been studying here, and moaning and groaning ... and then he'll come in and say, 'I passed!'"
What does Bright want to do next?
He wants to keep working at UK and aim for promotion, he said, and keep helping children: "I would like to help African-American kids break the cycle of obesity."