SIDNEY — Ellen Keyes has fulfilled a New Year’s resolution she had made several times. She is now a college graduate.
Keyes received her Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership degree from Wright State University during commencement Saturday.
The road to receiving her degree took longer than Keyes ever expected.
“I started going to college at Indiana University right out of high school. I was pursuing a degree in history at the time. I stopped going to college in my junior year because I had just gotten married, then started a family, then raised my kids. Pretty soon a lot of years went by and history wasn’t really what I wanted to do anymore,” she said.
Through the years, Keyes thought about returning to college, but her family was always her No. 1 priority.
“I always wanted to finish my degree but just didn’t have the time to do it. For many years I even had it as one of my New Year’s resolutions. Even went so far as to call a few colleges and see what it would take for me to go back,’ said Keyes.
“But, before you know it was time for my kids to go to college, and, as moms do, I put my desire on the back burner. However, each time I had the privilege of seeing each of my children graduate from college, the desire to go back to college would surface.
“Finishing my degree was important to me for quite a few reasons. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. My mother had always wanted to go to college but didn’t and even today at 93 she will tell you she wanted to go. I wanted to change that narrative and be an example to my grandchildren that you can accomplish what you set out to do, no matter how old you are. Plus, I love learning and felt that with a degree, I could bring more to my job.”
She started on the road to achieving her dream in the fall of 2017 when she returned to college. Most semesters she took two classes. During the COVID-19 shutdown, she took more classes each semester.
Working full time as executive director of Gateway Arts Council and going to college saw Keyes balancing her home life with student life.
“There were a lot of late nights, no TV, and many social invitations turned down. When I first started back to school I had to be on campus. That meant that I would have to leave work during the day. I had to make sure all my work was done before I left, which required a lot of time management and tricky scheduling. If there was a show scheduled for a weekend, I brought my homework with me and studied whenever we had a break. One funny thing is that when COVID-19 shut down in-person classes, all my classes went online and it became easier to manage my classes. I could work a full day and do class at night and on the weekends,” said Keyes.
“When I initially started back to school I didn’t have grandchildren, now I have five. I made the decision that I would always be present for them which added a new dynamic for managing my time. If I knew that we had family time coming, I made sure that my homework was completed ahead of time. I remember one time babysitting my granddaughters and the youngest one was having problems sleeping so I pulled out one of my textbooks and began reading it to her. Problem solved, she went right to sleep,” she said.
Keyes also faced another challenge: having health insurance.
“Small non-profits have a very difficult time providing benefits to their employees. Budgets are tight and the funds need to go towards advancing the mission. As an employee of a non-profit organization, you accept that fact and pray you don’t get sick. Having insurance takes that stress away,” said Keyes.
“For many years Gateway’s Board of Trustees wanted to provide health insurance for me but it was just too cost-prohibitive. When the Affordable Care Act passed I found out I wasn’t eligible and not only was I not eligible, I would have to pay a penalty for not being insured. Fortunately Gateway’s Board of Trustees paid that penalty for me for several years,” she said.
Saturday’s graduation was a day Keyes and her family will remember for years to come.
“My children were extremely supportive and in fact, oftentimes served as my tutors. I have quite a few funny stories of being tutored by them. I loved it. My children might not go right to the word love,” said Keyes.
“My children told me they were proud that I accomplished what I set out to do. They were all present at the graduation ceremony, which was so very meaningful, and honestly a miracle. My grandchildren are all pretty little so they don’t totally understand. They just know that grandma was in school,” she said.
Her family’s support means the world to Keyes.
“There really aren’t words adequate enough to describe how much their support meant to me. When I was apprehensive about being the most mature student in class, they told me it was fine and made me laugh. They helped me through my math classes, read my papers, and talked science with me,” she said.
The support of the Gateway Arts Council board, employees and volunteers was important to Keyes.
“The Board of Trustees and my staff were extremely supportive. There is no way that I could have accomplished this without their support. My staff was often elected to help me study for a test during lunch. They still tease me about my world health class. My Board of Trustees is invested in seeing me grow not only as an executive but as a person. They provided this path of growth for me. I will forever be grateful for their vision and forward-thinking,” said Keyes.
The degree will assist Keyes with her job and she is looking toward future educational endeavors.
“There are a lot of ways that this degree helps with my job from strategic planning, to grant writing, to staff training. This degree compliments what I do. I found myself saying ‘This would have been nice to know.’ I have been putting into place what I learned as I was learning it. That was rather cool,” said Keyes.
“I will be taking two classes this spring. They are just classes that I wanted to take but couldn’t fit into my schedule. I am hoping to start my Masters’s degree in the fall. We will see,” she said.
“One of the things that I found that I am most passionate about it life long learning. Education is more than what job you get as a result. It is about exposure to new ideas, critical thinking, and the confidence an education gives you. You are never too mature to learn. In fact, it keeps you young. I would encourage everyone who has the desire to go to college, Go! Learn! No matter how mature you are,” she said.