Nontraditional students were highlighted in the first day of commencement ceremonies at the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University on Friday.
UNT held its second university-wide commencement ceremony at Apogee Stadium, where several hundred of the school’s more than 4,200 May graduates had their degrees conferred. The degree conferral, by the president, means their diplomas are certified and the students become alumni.
Steven Davidson, a December 2015 graduate, served as the keynote speaker. He highlighted how he started at UNT after serving in the military and dropping out of community college two times. He and many of the 2016 graduates were nontraditional students who found their way at UNT.
Davidson noted he wasn’t ready for college straight out of high school, or even when he was in the military. It was after he returned from a tour of duty in Africa that he was accepted to UNT on a provisional basis.
“When I returned from East Africa, I was a different person,” he said. “With my less-than-stellar academic records on hand, this university took a chance and accepted my application. As a student at North Texas and equipped with the lessons learned on my deployment, I was finally able to get into that rhythm of higher education.”
Later in the day at TWU’s Kitty Magee Arena, 37-year-old Tamiel Turley was recognized before she even crossed the stage to get her bachelor’s degree in biology. She is one of 1,731 students who will graduate from TWU during ceremonies Friday and today.
Carine Feyten, president and chancellor of the university, recognized Turley for graduating 20 years after she dropped out of high school, and long after she was told not to aspire to be more than a secretary.
“Tamiel said that 20 years ago, she didn’t think she was smart enough to go to college,” Feyten said. “However, as she has aged, she has believed in herself more.”
Turley said though she didn’t always believe in herself, her husband and four children have. All are excited to move with her so she can work toward her doctorate in biomedical sciences at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, she said.
Preparing to walk across the stage Friday, Turley said because of her support system at home and at TWU, she is ready for the big move and to study how genes affect how different people respond to different drugs.
“This means everything to me,” she said. “It means going through that hard time and thinking, ‘I couldn’t do this because I’m not smart enough,’ to being here — it’s like, ‘I can do this.’ It’s never too late. I think it’s one of those times where you feel like you’re ready to shout out to the world you can do whatever you want to do.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.