Graduates understand sacrifice, struggles behind degree

If there is one attribute that is shared by all college graduates, it is relief. No more books; no more term papers; no more cramming for tests. But for those who graduate later in life, the appreciation for the diploma seems greater.

Such is the case for Cynthia Settle and Kim Lambert, who received their undergraduate degrees from Wayland in the December 8 commencement ceremony at Harral Auditorium.

For Settle, the journey to the stage looks more like an obstacle course, in retrospect. It began many years ago when she first enrolled at Wayland in 1976. Having graduated from Plainview High School just two years prior, she was working as an officer with the Hale County Sheriff's Department when the urge to pursue a college degree hit.

"To really get anywhere, you had to have a degree. Women in law enforcement were pretty new and you had to do twice as much as the men," Settle said.

Her educational start was much like the other students around her, except that after her day classes, she would don a uniform and leave for her evening patrol shift. She lived in Owen Hall but kept her gun at her parent's home since it could not be in the dorm. All went well until her job schedule changed, making class attendance impossible. She withdrew before the semester's end and worked full-time.

At the time, Settle said she figured she'd eventually get her degree. As it turned out, that would be many years later. She later moved to Colorado and worked for the city of Manitou Springs as a forestry technician. But that job - and her life as she had previously known it - were ended when a workplace accident resulted in a broken back.

Eight surgeries later, Settle moved to Savannah, Ga., where she worked on a plantation. But when her mother became ill in 1996, she returned to Plainview. At the urging of her sister and nephew, both of whom were attending Wayland at the time, she enrolled again in pursuit of a degree in psychology and criminal justice. It was quite a different experience.

"When I first came here, I blended in. But coming back, I stuck out like a sore thumb," she laughed, adding that other nontraditional students made the transition easier.

Settle was able to take classes full-time, allowing her to complete her degree in four years like most traditional students. But the journey was not without hitches. While in school, she's endured more surgeries and complications due to the back injury and underwent chemotherapy for leukemia. She persevered.

"I knew if I quit this time I probably couldn't come back," she said. "I fought tooth and nail for this degree, but in my philosophy, there's no such thing as quit. I feel like (the diploma) should be gold-plated at this point."

For Lambert, the journey was a bit smoother, just longer. A native of Lockney, she was 31 when she first enrolled at Wayland almost ten years ago. Before that, she'd been a substitute in Lockney part-time, preferring her full-time role as a mother of three sons.

Lambert credits two friends who were attending Wayland at the time, Sandra Cummings and Diane Johnson, with encouraging her to look into pursuing her own degree. Her husband Danny also encouraged her to get a teaching degree, knowing her love for children. The prospect was frightening.

"I'd never attended college. As soon as I graduated high school, I was married," she said. "When I came to register, I had no idea what to do. I was shaking."

With her three sons at home, she began taking classes part-time, scheduling two or three days a week when she could be home all day with the boys. When two of her sons entered high school and got more heavily involved, she found the juggling act too difficult and dropped out.

Three years later, as her youngest entered high school, the realization hit that soon the empty nest would leave her without her full-time mom status. She reenrolled in 1998, carrying a full load. With graduation nearing, she's looking forward to using her education degree in interdisciplinary studies with a reading specialization, to get a teaching job.

"While I was out, everyone in the community would always ask me when I was going back. I guess they really encouraged me to finish, too," Lambert said. "I'm proud just knowing I finished. I didn't ever have enough confidence in myself to think I would ever graduate from college."

Lambert said she enjoyed the experience of taking classes alongside more traditional-aged students and felt welcomed by them. She also credits a faculty that was understanding and accommodating with her role as a mother as making the journey less stressful.

Lambert's husband Danny and their three sons - Joshua, 22, Jordan, 20, and Jared, 18 - will be cheering her on Saturday at commencement, though she's warned them to keep it down. Her parents and siblings and their families will also be there, showing pride at her accomplishment. But she might outshine them all.

"It probably won't sink in until I cross the stage on Saturday," she said. "I'm proud that I stuck it out. It took me longer than it normally would, but I am glad to finally be done."