It had been 35 years since James Fry, 52, first enrolled in college, an opportunity he was forced to give up when family responsibilities took his time and energy. But after watching his fourth child graduate college, he put his "woulda, shoulda, coulda" dreams into action with the help of Tennessee Reconnect, a state initiative to help adults pursue higher education tuition-free. For his efforts, Fry was named Tennessee's Community College Student of the Year. Here's the history major's story of achievement at Chattanooga State Community College.
As I watched each of my four children graduate with various degrees each from different universities, I was so proud of all that they achieved. As parents, we were proud too, knowing that we have helped give our children the gift of education that is so important in today's society.
Although I was glad for my children, I felt a deeper emotion, a nagging feeling at each celebration, knowing that I had never graduated from college. Thirty-five years ago, I enrolled in college, but my father's illness and other responsibilities proved to be too large a barrier, so I left school and never imagined returning. Meeting and marrying a wonderful and nurturing wife, raising kids and working more than full-time, I was proud of what I was able to accomplish; however, I always knew it would have been easier with a college degree and I would have had the ability to pursue more choices in my career path.
At each of the graduations for my children, I had always said aloud, "if I could do it all over again, I would," and last year, after attending the fourth and last graduation ceremony as my youngest daughter graduated, I decided to take a huge step and return to college. I selected history as a major, and with my family's support, I have begun a life-changing journey that has led me to a renewed sense of purpose, pride and a new community through attending Chattanooga State Community College. Most importantly, through former Gov. Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55," the Tennessee Reconnect grant has made it possible for me to attend tuition-free and focus on these new goals I have set for myself.
As I returned to school, I worried if I could be a good enough student and if I would have what it takes to do well after many, many years. I found that the Chattanooga State staff are truly dedicated to the success of each student seeking help, and that from early on, I was pleased to get help and build my confidence in accomplishing assignments and studies.
With the dynamic support of the Adult Services Center, along with tutors, attentive Financial Aid and Admissions counselors and an excellent teaching staff, I have been encouraged to do the best I can, recognizing that I am part of an academic community here at school. With the financial support from Tennessee Reconnect, a supportive staff at Chattanooga State and with encouragement from my wife and each of my children, I am blessed with the opportunity to "do it all over again," and I highly recommend this pursuit for each person considering taking this step.
Tennessee Reconnect and Chattanooga State will most certainly change your life and bring you closer to making your dreams happen.
— James Fry