Raleigh, North Carolina – A 75-year-old woman and her family are eagerly preparing for the May 8 opening ceremonies at Shaw University – a graduation that took Rebecca Inge on a 57-year journey.
Recently, Inge walked into Shaw’s bookstore and found a rare item to wear before the event: a special sequin shirt with Shaw’s name and a big “65” underneath.
“That ’65’ is the year I came to Shaw,” Inge said.
She has her old student ID to prove it.
“The (store) manager was thrilled. I said it was my year. It was the year I came to Shaw,” Inge said.
That’s when Inge boarded a train leaving her home in Sanford, Florida to pursue college at Shaw. Inge worked in the college cafeteria to help pay for her education.
She had big goals for a degree.
“I always dreamed of going to medical school because I was often sick when I was a child. I dreamed of being a surgeon,” Inge said. She was also interested in engineering.
After the wedding and the birth of her daughter, Inge put her plans to graduate at Shaw on hold. Inge’s daughter, Marisa Ratliff Dunston, said her mother had made great sacrifices for her family.
“She put her life on hold so that I could complete my 21 years of education and be successful today,” Dunston said.
Dunston is now retired from a long career serving in the US military, having been stationed in places like Germany and Japan.
When Inge’s husband died in 2015, she often stayed with her daughter in these foreign countries. Then she decided to return to the Shaw campus to finish what she had started by re-enrolling.
Inge remembers the reaction at the registration desk.
“The lady looked at me and she said, I don’t know if we have your records,” Inge said. “And I said, ‘Then find them!'”
The recordings have been found; however, many things about a Shaw education had changed since the 1960s – for example, computers and email.
Dunston said: “There were still things she had trouble grasping, so I was there to help her.”
At her daughter’s, sitting on the sofa in the living room, Inge’s arm rested on a pillow that echoed her own philosophy of life: Choose to be happy!
She said: “You have to live until you die so why not be happy to do something that makes you happy and get involved”
Between her first and second efforts to earn a degree at Shaw, Inge’s jobs included working for NASA on the first shuttle mission as well as working at Disney World as a safety instructor.