70-Year-Old Graduate Proves It’s Never Too Late to “Finish What You Started”


Ola Pruett is scheduled to graduate from JSU on July 31, 2020.

Each of the 430 students receiving degrees at JSU’s summer commencement on July 31 has forged their own path, overcoming countless obstacles, to reach their goal. For Ola Pruett, it was a journey 50 years in the making. 

“It’s been quite a long haul for me,” she said, with a laugh. 

Pruett, 70, started her career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in 1970 and received her associate’s degree from Gadsden State Community College, becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), in 1978. She cared for patients at Noble Army Hospital at Fort McClellan and Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center throughout her 41-year nursing career. Yet, her desire to return to college for a bachelor’s degree never waned.

“Finishing college has filled me with enormous satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment,” said Pruett, a native of Oxford and current Jacksonville resident. “It’s been a long-term dream of mine to complete this degree. I have a lot of perseverance. When I set my mind to something, I usually get it done.”

That dream slowly started to take shape when Pruett retired in 2011. After a brief detour in Medicare Advantage Insurance sales, she began her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in integrated studies in 2015 through JSU’s Finish What You Started program. The program provides special advising, course credit for work experience, a small scholarship, and other assistance for those returning to college to complete a degree. 

Pruett learned about the Finish What You Started program from her daughter, Samantha Pruett, who graduated with an integrated studies degree from JSU in 2019. 

“She taught me to just hang in there,” said Pruett, who has two children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way. “If you have a willingness and a desire to put forth the effort, you can accomplish your goals, no matter how long it might take.”

Pruett never got in a rush to complete her degree, taking time to soak up all the lessons presented in class. 

“I really took it very slow and easy,” she said. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, and I had the luxury of doing that. Retirement lets you focus your time on a lot of things, and education is something that was always important to me.”

Pruett particularly enjoyed taking art classes, such as painting, drawing and ceramics. She was also required to complete the same basic education classes as all other students, if she hadn’t previously taken them while earning her associate’s degree.  “Those were kind of tough,” she admitted. In fact, to graduate, she had to pass the “dreaded math class,” which she did – with an A. “Biology was the most challenging, along with the math,” she said.

Barbara Cook, certification and advising specialist for JSU, started working with Pruett when she first enrolled at JSU. 

“She has always been a joy to work with,” Cook said.” I love her tenacity to never give up on finishing what she had started so many years ago. I hope her determination inspires others to never give up on their goals.” 

Dr. Staci Stone, dean of JSU’s School of Arts and Humanities, sees Pruett’s degree as cause for celebration. 

“For her to earn a degree at this life stage proves that motivated people can finish what they started at JSU,” Stone said. “Ola's persistence is an excellent example for all JSU students.”

JSU will host Spring and Summer 2020 Commencement on July 31 and August 1.