On May 11, Mesa Community College will recognize the accomplishments of graduates for the 2011-12 school year at a commencement ceremony in the campus courtyard of MCC’s Southern and Dobson campus. Community colleges often attract students from all age groups and all walks of life. MCC’s class of 2012 clearly demonstrates that fact.
This year’s class includes a 14-year-old math/zoology major and a 60-year-old mortuary science major. Both exhibit a zeal for learning that is ageless.
Jessica Bailey Brooke, 14, of Gilbert, attended MCC as part of the Early College Program. She has completed 87 credits with a 4.0 GPA and will graduate with the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. Her mother, Rachel Brooke, said that Jessica has always done well academically and likes to be challenged. When she finished seventh grade, they looked to the Maricopa Colleges to supplement her education. She took a math assessment test and scored very high.
“They told us, why not just enroll her?” Rachel said. “Jessica was already frustrated by how much time was wasted in her regular classroom, so we enrolled her in college. At MCC, she really liked that the students wanted to be there, that they were paying to be there. And I was amazed at the caliber of math professors at MCC.”
Jessica said her first day of college as a 14-year-old was a little intimidating. “I was so nervous and quiet,” Jessica said. “But everyone was so nice and the professors worked hard to get everyone to get to know each other.”
Both Jessica and her mother agree that the classes Jessica took have been excellent at preparing her to transfer to a university next fall. She was not treated any differently because of her young age.
“The professors expected the same thing out of me as any other student,” Jessica said. “I especially liked my Latin class. It was a small, relaxed class and the professor was so willing to help. You could tell he wanted all of us to succeed.” Jessica has been offered the Presidential Scholarship at both Utah State University and Weber State University for her next four years of school. She plans to double major in math and zoology and pursue a minor in music. Her goal is to attend med school.
“I’m very glad I chose this path,” Jessica said. “A lot of people encouraged me and a lot of people worried about the social aspect. But I made friends and have loved every minute of it.”
William Price, 60, of Phoenix, began his path to a degree a little differently. After working for 41 years as a diesel mechanic, Price suffered an injury and was partially disabled in 2008. He had the choice to go on permanent disability or go back to school to train for a new career. He chose mortuary science as his new career.
“I had spent 15 years as a volunteer minister and at first wanted to pursue a degree in theology,” Prices said. “But I also took a death and dying class and became interested in mortuary science. That was a natural extension of ministry. I applied and was accepted into the program.”
To attend classes, Price drove 74 miles round trip every day to the MCC’s Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Center campus while working three jobs. Despite the demands on his time, he said returning to school at his age was definitely the right decision.
“It was absolutely worth it,” Price said. “Going back to school has reversed the clock on me mentally. I feel younger and I have really enjoyed being with my classmates.”
Price said the mortuary science instructors, Tom Taggert and Donna Backhaus, are extremely knowledgeable.
“The classwork was not easy, but it’s right on the point of what you need to pass the state board,” Price said. “I liked that I was with a fairly small group of students who were all focused on the same curriculum.”
Price’s plans for the future include opening a parish in Sun City after he is ordained as a priest in May. The skills he has learned in the program will be useful for helping grieving families.
Right now, though, his mind is focused on receiving his degree. After the ceremony, he’ll be thinking about two things. “First,” Price said. “I’ll be thrilled that I finally got my degree. Then, I’ll be thinking, what’s the after-party like?”