When Mesa Community College graduate Debbie Seals walks across the stage at commencement this month, she’ll celebrate her persistence at overcoming many obstacles that stood in her way. But in addition to her own success, Seals has also made a difference in the lives of others she helped along the way.
Seals decided to return to college when the youngest of her three children turned 10. She had never completed high school, but earned a GED and attended a few classes at Pima Community College in Tucson.
Upon moving to the Phoenix area, she decided to pursue her degree in earnest. For the next four years she plodded on with her dream while raising her children, assisting her parents with severe health problems, and surviving the end of her marriage.
“I’ve had a lot of drama in my life, but I had a goal and I wanted to reach it,” Seals said.
Seals said she loved MCC from the moment she stepped on campus. She worked as a part-time student worker and attended school full time.
“The professors were so different from what I had experienced,” Seals said. “I received more help from them and I’m still friends with many of them. I’ve been through so many things and they’ve all worked with me so I could complete my classes.”
One semester was particularly difficult when her mother passed away from an aneurysm. She withdrew from school and thought about not continuing on, but decided to give it another try.
“I knew dropping out of school was not what my mom would want,” Seals said.
She started up again and a short time later, her father had a stroke. Despite driving back and forth to Tucson every weekend to help him, she kept up with her schoolwork.
During this time, her children saw her spending hour after hour on homework. She's seen the positive effect it has had on them.
“They’ve seen me get through college, so they are not afraid of college,” Seals said.
They’ve even seen her fail a math class after much hard work.
“I tell them sometimes you just don’t get it,” she said. “But you do it again and just give it your all.”
She eventually passed the math class and found herself sprinting to the end of her degree. Seals will graduate with an associate in arts degree and plans to transfer to Arizona State University or Northern Arizona University to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology. The degree provides a wide variety of job opportunities and she is considering social work, law or school counseling.
“I kind of just find my way as I go,” she said. “When you get there, more things open up.”
Seals currently works as a temporary employee in the MCC Testing Center. It’s a perfect fit for her and she loves encouraging the students who come in to take the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) test.
“Some of them come in embarrassed about taking the test, but I always tell them I have a GED,” she said. “I also have a list of important people who earned a GED, like Bill Cosby or Peter Jennings.”
They feel better after speaking with someone who knows firsthand the effort that completing a degree takes.
“I tell them that GED’s are not just for dropouts,” she said. “Sometimes life gets in the way.”