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Family Earns College Degrees Together

Graduation PhotoIt isn’t unusual to have family members attend your graduation. But, Theresa Dowland’s daughter and future daughter-in-law weren’t just watching from the bleachers as the Newton resident prepared to accept her long-anticipated degree from Olney Central College. They were sitting beside Dowland waiting to receive their own diplomas.

“It was a pretty exciting night for the three of us and it was very emotional for me knowing my mother was there watching and my own daughter was right there with me,” Dowland said. “It was a neat experience. I was walking on air for about four days afterward. It felt pretty darn good.”

Dowland, her daughter, Cassandra McKinney of Olney, and future daughter-in-law, Angelina Totten of Calhoun, all received an associate in general studies degree during OCC’s 2018 Commencement Ceremony.

“It was nice to have all of the families together and to sit side by side graduating,” Totten added. “It was a special time for all of us.”

For Dowland, the evening marked the completion of a 34-year journey, which began when she first enrolled at OCC as a high school graduate.

“I was a CNA in high school and I thought I would be a nurse,” Dowland said. “But then life happened. I got married and had children.”

Dowland returned to the classroom in 1992, but fell just three classes short of finishing her degree before putting her education on hold again. Then last summer the mother of four and grandmother of nine decided to try again.

“I was sitting on my front porch one morning wondering what I was going to do next and a voice in my head said, ‘Go back to school.’”

Armed with a renewed enthusiasm, Dowland enrolled in classes again, but this time she wasn’t alone.

“I had been taking classes on and off for the last few   years,” Totten said. “We were all sitting around one day   talking about it and we all decided to just start at the same time.”

Dowland and Totten even took a summer biology course together. For McKinney, who was just three classes shy of completing her degree, it was the push she needed.

“I had wanted to finish my degree, but I kept making excuses,” she said. “I thought if they can do it, I can too.”

Attending OCC together, the women encouraged one another as they juggled school, work and family commitments.

“We were always there to support each other,” Dowland said. “It was especially nice with the online classes and assignments. If one of us would say, ‘I can’t do it,’ someone was always there to say, ‘Yes, you can.’ We were always asking each other, ‘Can I help you with this?’ We were on the phone with each other every day. Sometimes, four or five times a day.”

“I feel good the girls wanted to finish too,” Dowland added. “They are looking at me thinking if this old lady can do it, we can too. I’m pretty proud of them.”

Both McKinney and Totten are taking CNA classes this summer in preparation to enter OCC’s Nursing Program in August.

“Nursing has always been in the back of my head,” McKinney said. “I’m 28 years old and I have been an administrative assistant, a secretary and a manager at a fast food restaurant. Everything I’ve done was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Totten earned a cosmetology degree at OCC and has worked in the field. But, like McKinney she has always been interested in the nursing profession. Eventually, she hopes to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“It felt easier going back to school,” Totten said. “When I was first out of high school and in college, I was goofing off. Now that I’m older, I have goals. I want to make good grades. I have two little girls that are looking up to me and I want to make them proud.”

In addition to her associate’s degree, Dowland earned her CNA certificate last fall and completed a marketing and mid-management degree from Wabash Valley College. She also is considering pursuing a nursing degree.

“I am so proud of my mom and Angelina,” McKinney said. “My mom could have kept putting it off, but she didn’t. She is happier now and proud of herself. I’m more proud of her than I am of myself.”


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