Seventy-year-old Eva Jones’s journey to earn her bachelor’s degree began in 1963, when she enrolled at Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas. After two years, she felt it was time to go home to Memphis. Eva turned down a full scholarship to a college in Oklahoma in order to return home. She began studying at the University of Memphis (then Memphis State) in 1965. She took courses at Memphis State steadily for a few years, but as time went by she found it difficult to balance the demands of school with the responsibilities of work and family. After attending on and off in the 1970s, Eva decided to put her dream on hold. Since then, she has proudly watched both of her children and one grandchild go on to earn bachelor’s degrees.
In early 2015, Eva’s older sister recommended that she get in touch with Graduate Memphis, one of the University’s community partners, to inquire about completing her degree. As one of thirteen siblings, Eva was one of the few who had not yet completed a degree, and it was her time. With her sister’s encouragement, Eva contacted Graduate Memphis, who ultimately connected her with the Finish Line program at the University of Memphis. Finish Line assists prior U of M students who left the institution just shy of earning a degree. The program provides several benefits, including dedicated academic advisors who provide support to students from initial meeting to graduation day. Eva says, “My advisor simplifies things for me. It was like I was taking so many steps, and she took all those steps with me.”
With Finish Line’s help, Eva learned that she only needed three courses in order to graduate. She chose to complete her courses online in order to have the flexibility of studying from home. Acclimating to online courses has been somewhat challenging for Eva, but with a determined spirit she has proven that she can handle whatever comes her way. Eva completed two courses online over the summer 2015 semester, earning high grades in both. She even found joy in them, saying, “by the end, it was fun!”
Some folks have asked Eva what she plans to do with her degree, to which she replies, “I will encourage other people to do the same, to help them realize their dreams too.” Eva has a plan for her diploma as well. “I’m going to hang it on the wall and say, look at what I did!”
Although she did not set out to become an inspiration, that is exactly what happened. “I didn’t realize the effect it would have on other people,” she notes. The Memphis chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women recognized her with a scholarship this past summer. After the ceremony, a young woman in her twenties, and fellow University of Memphis student, approached Eva to say, “If you can do it, so can I.” When young people see someone in her seventies actively choosing to complete a degree, the importance of education resonates with them.
Eva just completed her final capstone course, in which she wrote a fifteen page research paper. “It’s never too late to learn,” says Eva. Fifty-two years after starting her journey to earn a degree, Eva graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies. Regarding graduation day, Eva states, “I’m looking forward to December 13th with great anticipation. My daughters are just as excited as I am.”