Gladys Thomas’ story is as remarkable as any you will ever hear. At the age of 74 she graduated from OCC, earning a degree in Professional Communication May 2015. Her performance as an adult learner was so outstanding she was named the top student in her major during April’s Student Honors Ceremony.
Thomas’ journey to a college degree was lengthy and often difficult. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 22. Her mother died of a stroke. Her son struggled with kidney failure for more than a dozen years. Her daughter battled a drug addiction, leaving Thomas to raise her three grandchildren. “Despite everything I went through I never lost my desire to go to college,” Thomas said.
She made the decision to give college a try and enrolled in OCC in 2012. “When I went to register, I felt inferior to the younger generation because it had been over 50 years since I was in a class room. I told myself that all of us were there for the same reason, to get to the next level.”
Thomas said she brought a level of life-experience to class other students simply couldn’t. “As a 71 year old African-American female student who had seen history first hand, I brought diversity to the student body at OCC. I added a unique perspective to class discussions. I wanted to be a model of dedication, perseverance, enthusiasm, integrity, and self-respect for the younger students.
Thomas found strength in her faith and decided to share her message with others. “I had been encouraged through the word of God and came to the conclusion other women needed to be encouraged as well.” She started a religious show on radio station WSIV 1540 am. It airs every Saturday from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m. “Having a close relationship with Jesus Christ and applying the word of God to my life every day keeps me strong spiritually, mentally and physically.”
When Thomas walked across the stage at commencement and received her college degree, she became the first of her 13 siblings to do so. Her academic success carries deep meaning. “It was important to show everyone I could do this. If I can do it, they can do it. I leave my family this legacy.”