Success Stories - Donna Smith
Donna Smith has wanted to be a school teacher her entire life.
"I love school. I love everything about school," she said. "I played school in the summer when I was a kid. I set Barbie dolls up in my room as students. My parents actually bought me an old school desk. It's always been a passion."
She kept that passion through high school and after graduating, she was ready for college.
"I was registered to go to Vol State. I'd applied, paid my application fee and signed up for classes."
Then life stepped in with a curve ball.
"I had issues come up at home and it didn't seem like a good time. I thought that I would put it off for a couple of years."
That was 1979. Those couple of years started piling up.
"I got married and that put it off. I had my first child and that put it off. I had my second child and that put it off. I've been on the mailing list for Vol State since 1979."
The dream of going to college was postponed for 26 years. In the meantime, she did everything she could to get into the classroom.
"I did part-time work as a substitute teacher and a teacher's aide," Donna said. "I was a room mother when my son was in the second grade. I was at school almost every day, tutoring or helping with tests."
Still, it wasn't the same as having her own classroom. It was something her husband, Cecil, recognized.
"He said 'get your own classroom, do what you want to do'".
In 2005 Donna took the plunge and finally started taking classes at Vol State. She says it wasn't just the need to be a teacher, but to also teach her own children about the value of education.
"It's difficult when you have children to stress the importance of going to college, when neither parent has a degree."
Like many adult students, Donna was concerned was about fitting in at age 43 on a college campus. "My first initial fear was being in class with eighteen and nineteen year-olds. I found that to be entirely false. Some of the best friends I have made are 18, 19 and 20 year-olds. Some of the best advice I've had is from them. Having been out of school for 25 years, study habits go away. I've learned new study techniques from them."
Donna also found her older perspective was valuable for her new younger friends, as well, especially when it concerned going to college.
"Don't do it because mom and dad want you to do it. Do it because you have a love and passion for it. It makes a difference."
Donna is set to graduate from Vol State at the end of next fall, with a parallel transfer degree in Elementary Education. She plans to transfer to Tennessee State University to work on her bachelor's degree. And then, after 45 years, she'll be ready for her own classroom, full of real students.
"If I could choose any grade it would be kindergarten. They're so open. They see the world as having any possibility."