Daughter Inspires Mom to go Back to School
Felicia Gresham always told her kids they could do anything, but it wasn’t until they were grown that she had the opportunity to learn the same lesson from them.
Felicia had dropped out of high school when she was just 14 years old. She had spent years bouncing around to different jobs as she raised her children. Finally at age 53, now a mother and a grandmother, Felicia found herself living with her daughter, escaping a verbally abusive relationship, working at Goodwill and struggling to get by.
She watched her daughter Starsha graduate from UEI’s Morrow campus in 2020, and in 2021 when she was again denied a job because she didn’t have a high school diploma, she decided to give it a chance.
“When I started to go to UEI, it was a big push from my daughter,” she said. “I had been wanting to do this for years and those encouraging words from her ‘Mama, I know you can do it, I’ll be there to support you.’ I went to UEI and when I went in there, I was nervous, I didn’t think I could do it and I was doubting myself the whole time.”
Felicia recalls the test she had to take to see if she could qualify for the high school program. She was accepted right away and the thought of finally meeting that milestone brought her to tears.
“Ms. LaVita asked why I was crying, and I said, ‘I didn’t know if I was smarter than a fifth grader,” she said. “I was my own worst critic.”
“It was all because of her age,” said LaVita Vessel, director of admissions. “Once I really sat down and talked to her, she told me she felt like she was too old to be doing this at this age. I told her we do this all the time. There are students here that are older than you. You can do it.”
‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop‘
As Felicia began the Business Office Administration program, her personal challenges made focusing on school difficult. Her ex was constantly harassing her, telling her she would never be able to finish. Her daughter who she was living with was struggling with mental problems and would ask her to leave when things got difficult, forcing her to sleep in her car. On top of all of that the coursework was challenging, especially for someone who was unfamiliar with computers. There were times she would get very little sleep as she tried to keep up with assignments.
“I felt myself wanting to drop out but every time I went in that classroom, Ms. Grant was so helpful,” she said. “She was very inspirational. She would always tell me I can do whatever I put my mind to. I told her I didn’t feel like I could, but I would keep on until I get it. My motto the whole time was ‘Can’t stop, won’t stop.’ I wasn’t doing it for anyone but me.”
Many times, Felicia’s family also provided the motivation to keep going.
“To have my grandkids see me with that laptop in my lap they would say ‘Go Grandma, go grandma, go!’ that motivated me even more,” she said. “I sat down with my granddaughter one day and she had to help me with an assignment and at the same time I was helping her. I helped her to do a resume. She had never done one before. She helped me get to the links and get where I needed to be. It was great.”
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‘UEI is There For You‘
In January of 2022, Felicia hit a bump in the road. She became ill and with poor attendance, she failed a course in her program. She knew she would have to retake it and push her graduation even further back.
When she returned to campus, she was assigned to a new instructor who pushed her in a new way.
“She wasn’t letting anybody slide. It was all on you,” Felicia said. “She was there in every way with pep talks, to talks on the phone, to texts. She was a special force. She made herself accessible for me to complete everything I needed. I told her I can’t go back to where I came from. She told me, you’re good, just relax.”
With help from her daughter’s girlfriend, Felicia was able to catch up and get back on course. On the day before she went to her externship, she made sure everyone saw she had done it.
“I was so super happy,” she said. “I was super, duper happy. I came in the door, ready. I was on point. I’m still elated every time someone calls me or sees the video. I can’t believe that I did it.”
“She was crying and had her high school diploma in her hand and she saw me and came running back to me singing ‘Look at me now, I got my papers,’” LaVita said. “It was a great thing to watch her go through it and watch her spirits get high. It’s an amazing feeling knowing you helped someone overall and gave them courage when they felt like they couldn’t do it. You may have been the last option for them and to know one conversation can change somebody’s life, it’s an inspiration.”
At the end of her externship, Felicia was hired by the company as an office assistant.
“I almost start crying just thinking about it,” she said. “Where I was then, I’m not there now. I’m thanking God every time I think about it. I wasn’t homeless but I was 53 years old, living with my daughter and decided to go back to school. UEI is there for you. Go ahead. You can do it. Don’t give up. Whatever you think you cannot do, you can do whatever you put your mind to, you really can.”