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‘Be Brave’ and ‘Do it For Yourself’: Career Success is Attainable at Any Age

My mother didn’t graduate high school. She got married to a handsome young man in Army flight school, who was soon deployed to Europe. She started the life of a military wife and lived all over the world. She raised a great family, and was grateful for her life, but something was missing.

Growing up, I watched Mother sit in her reading chair for hours on end, always with a book in her hand. She read history books, novels—anything she could get her hands on. Her whole life, she was committed to learning.

My dad passed away young, at 62, and at 55, my mother decided it was time to go back to school. She was the definition of a lifelong learner.

I was a high school senior at the time Mother decided she would go to college. At the time, I had no idea just how much work she put in to make her dream a reality. She had to earn her GED, take the ACT (yes, she took the ACT!), ready her application materials, and apply to college.

She was accepted and in 1983, she walked onto the University of Oklahoma campus—the same year I did—for her first college class.

She was brave.

The pride I have for her now is immense. How scary must that have been for my mother to embark upon her learning journey so late in life? It takes courage to go back to school, especially as a “non-traditional” student. But when you do the work to earn the credentials you desire, you are honoring yourself and investing in your future. It matters.

The linear path is a total myth. Every student, every learner, has so many different factors and circumstances that they’re navigating. It’s just not possible for every journey to look and feel the same. That’s why it’s so important for me to ensure that ACT honors all pathways and on ramps for learners.

People come to college with different circumstances, backgrounds, and considerations (e.g. financial, familial, health, etc.). ACT is here to provide resources, good information and help learners take the path that’s right for them, and to be their GPS when things get tough. Life happens. You may go in and out of school. You may switch your career path seven times. Our resources are inclusive because learning is personal.

My mother worked hard in college and got good grades (she was Phi Beta Kappa!). I’ll never forget when she knocked on my door to tell me she aced her Statistics class, a subject that she initially struggled with. “Janet, Janet, Janet! I got an ‘A’!” The joy and pride she felt in herself was inspiring.

Not only did my mother go on to get her bachelor’s degree in three years, she then earned her master’s in social work in one year. At the age of 60, Shirley Godwin got a job outside of the home for the first time in her life. She was credible, empathetic, and well-qualified to care for her clients. Her age was an asset.

Shirley Godwin's Bachelor's Degree Diploma

Shirley Godwin's Master's Degree Diploma

Students often work so hard to “fit in,” stick to the script, and “be normal.” But what sets you apart from others is often your greatest power. Take a page out of Shirley’s playbook: Be brave. You create success on your own terms. Invest in your future, and don’t let anything stop you!

"Be Brave." Janet Godwin College Signing Day Holding Mother's Diploma