By Ashley Siskey, Graduate Assistant in JSU’s Public Relations Office
On Aug. 21, a thirty-six year old mother of three began the journey of her final semester of her undergraduate career at Jacksonville State University (JSU). She will walk across the stage in December, an accomplishment over a decade in the making.
There are many others at JSU, and other post-secondary institutions across America, like Chantay Robertson. These others are mothers – whether married or single – who inspire the non-traditional student to fight through sleepless nights, console children that do not understand the tight financial constraints that being a student can bring on a household and sacrifice time she’d rather be doing anything else but homework.
Mrs. Robertson enrolled in JSU in 2001, as a single mother of three, and completed about a year-and-a-half of college before financial circumstances forced her to take a hiatus. Working full-time at Honda, she progressed quite successfully in her career, and before she knew it, years had passed without her returning to finish her degree. In 2010, Mrs. Robertson, compelled to live by example, re-enrolled to show her children how important education and follow-through is during a person’s lifetime.
“We went from filet mignon to bologna sandwiches,” Mrs. Robertson says. While she discussed with her children ahead of time about the changes in their financial situation and hours that she would have to invest completing school assignments, the sacrifices were, and still are overwhelming at times. There are many months of wondering if the bills will be covered, of telling her children there is no money for any “extras” and of watching other families go on vacations while hers has to forfeit until she is bringing home a paycheck again. Even after getting married last year and adding her husband’s income to the household, the family is still operating on a single-income requiring the continuation of many of the same sacrifices.
Ruth Hobbs, a December, 1971 JSU graduate in secondary education, knows the sacrifices well. She was a mother of three when she attended JSU and, like Mrs. Robertson, it took Mrs. Hobbs over a decade to complete her degree. Coincidentally, the two women’s paths crossed at JSU and the pair has become friends. Mrs. Hobbs is there to offer encouragement to Mrs. Robertson, as well as tutor Mrs. Robertson in math. A retired math teacher from Calhoun County Schools, Mrs. Hobbs taught at Wellborn, Ohatchee, Weaver and Alexandria. She is delighted to get the opportunity to help out a fellow mother.
These women know the excuses for not going to school well – the two primary reasons being time and money. Although over forty years spans the gap between their graduation dates, both women described the same experiences for a typical day as a student and a mom. Waking up at 5 a.m., the kids must be readied for school while mom prepares breakfast, crams in last-minute schoolwork and attempts to clean something, anything, while getting herself ready to walk out the door. After dropping the children off at school or a family member’s house, the moms would attend classes from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Then it was off to pick up the children from school or sports, go home to cook dinner, do laundry and clean (some more). For Mrs. Robertson, she is right back out the door to a ball game or practice for one of her children. Once everyone is home and in bed, the exhausted moms pull out their books and study until midnight or later. Then, it starts all over again.
Even while sharing the demanding schedule of a being a mother and student, both women were all smiles. The exhaustion, challenges, and sacrifices were, and have been, very much worth it. Mrs. Hobbs was married when she attended JSU, and her husband worked three jobs to support the family and pay tuition. She had wanted to be a teacher since the age of five and says, “I was going to do whatever it took to get there. You have to be very determined, especially if you don’t have money. To me, it was well-worth it.”
The biggest challenge for Mrs. Hobbs was finding childcare for her three children. With her husband working around the clock, she relied upon his mother to watch the children many days. However, there were often times when there was no one to watch the children, and Mrs. Hobbs would have to miss class and stay home. The family didn’t have disposable income, so hiring a sitter was not a childcare option for Mrs. Hobbs. “My husband was so glad when I finished school and started working,” Mrs. Hobbs reminisces. “It wasn’t just me that had to sacrifice, it was all of us.”
Mrs. Robertson offers advice to others out there contemplating getting a college degree, “I never felt smart in school. I dropped out of high school and got my GED. But, my journey has taught me there is nothing impossible with God. You are never too old, and you are never too uneducated to go to college. There’s never going to be a right time, so you just have to commit, accept there will be challenges and take one step at a time.”
For more information about this story, please contact the Office of Public Relations at (256)-782-5636.
Photo: Chantay Robertson, left, and Ruth Hobbs, right, have a lot in common. Both returned to school after they became moms.