Every so often at Wagner’s grand and joyous commencement ceremony, a bachelor’s degree graduate crosses the stage cheered on not by their parents, but by their spouse, their children, and sometimes even their grandchildren.
These graduates didn’t spend four years on campus immersed in academics, parties, and dorm life. They spent five or six or seven years or more, taking one or two classes per semester, while also working full time on campus and raising their families at home.
People like Ann Ayers ’13, Wagner College’s assistant registrar, who started working at the College in 2001 as a registration assistant. Ayers had taken about a year’s worth of college coursework right after high school, her tuition paid for by the bank where she worked full time. But then she got married and had a family, and college fell by the wayside.
Ayers decided to go back in 2007, when her older son went off to college. “I always stressed to them how important school was, and you have to finish your degree,” she says, and she decided it was time to practice what she preached. She chose to major in sociology, focusing on criminal justice, and finished her Wagner bachelor’s degree in December 2013.
“It’s such an accomplishment, and my sons are so proud of me,” she says with a huge smile. “I loved every minute of it.” In the meantime, her older son, Christopher, graduated from Villanova, and her younger son, Jonathan ’10, also graduated from Wagner.
For Eileen Archer ’12, it was also her children who inspired her to try college. Her daughter Julie went to Brown, and Sarah to Lafayette and Cardozo Law School. When Julie started college, Eileen did, too, earning her associate’s degree at CSI, a process that took five years while she worked full time at the family business.
Then life intervened again and prevented Archer from completing a bachelor’s degree. But she knew that she wanted to do it, and when she began working for the major gifts office at Wagner in 2007, she started right away.
Archer chose to major in Spanish because she had always loved travel and languages. She fulfilled the study abroad requirement through a three-week winter break program in Costa Rica.
Diane Catalano ’13, department secretary for theater and arts administration, even did a 500-hour internship to complete her major in arts administration. It took her a year of working on weekends at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, plus four years of taking coursework on her lunch breaks every semester.
All three say that they made it through with much encouragement from their fellow (although much younger) students, their supervisors and friends at Wagner, and their professors. And the rewards were well worth the struggles.
Catalano adds that getting to know the students and walking in their shoes has helped her do her job better, too. “When they get nervous about finishing the program, or writing a paper, or about the internship, I’ve been there and done that. If I could do it while working full time and raising two kids,” she says with a laugh, “then I tell them you can definitely do it, too.”