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Commencement 2013

After a long wait, Portsmouth mom earns her degree

Susan Scott comes from a family where education matters. Her siblings are college graduates; her mother held a Ph.D. from Oxford.

Finally, Scott, 60, is a college graduate, too. She will earn her associate in social sciences on May 8 during TCC commencement at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Scott yearned for a college education her entire life, but something always came first. She never stopped thinking of her grandmother’s favorite expression: “One monkey don’t stop no show.”

“People who know me know that once I have in my mind what I want to do, do not get in my way,” Scott said. “I will run over you. I will run through you. I will not run around you. I don’t let anything stop me.”

After high school, Scott wanted to major in anthropology. Her mother said no.

“During that time with African-American women, you could be a secretary, a teacher, something of that nature,” she said.

Scott picked nursing. The classes didn’t deter her, but the clinical setting did, and she dropped out of school prior to completion.

“My mother stayed mad at me till she died,” Scott said with a laugh. The nursing skills proved handy, though, as Scott tended to the older relatives in her family when they aged, even donating a kidney to her mother in 1995. Her occupation became coding claims for Medicare.

“I did that from March 12, 1972 until March 30, 2010,” said Scott, who spent 17 of those years with Sentara Healthcare. “That was the day I decided I was sick and tired of doing that.”

A brief stint managing a doctor’s office wasn’t fulfilling, either. Scott heard voices in her head. One night, one of them was particularly strong. It belonged to her mother urging, “Go to school.”

“I got up the next day and came to TCC and enrolled,” said Scott, who thinks of the Portsmouth Campus as a second home. “I didn’t think I could go to school. I didn’t have any money, any job, any savings.”

Scott also had an ailing father to care for. She was worn out mentally and unsure whether she had the aptitude to return to school after decades of being away.

Math stumped her. She started with remedial math and graduated to algebra.

“My math teachers in the Learning Center will tell you I worried them to death,” she said. “But I passed that algebra class with a B.”

“Every time I got ready to drop out, the people here were wonderful and encouraged me to keep going,” Scott said. “I had wonderful professors. I worked at the Women’s Center as part of my work study, so I had access to Jill (Nardin), who talked to me constantly.”

Scott lists Orlando Stone, Lawrence Singleton and Thomas Smith as three of the best teachers she’s ever had. She is especially grateful to interim dean Bertha Escoffery and provost Michelle Woodhouse.

“Without Dr. Woodhouse, I know I would have dropped out,” Scott said matter-of-factly.

Her daughter, Jasmine, who will graduate from Wilson High on June 7, is also an inspiration.

Along the way, Scott became a mentor to others. Everybody knows her as “Honey” on the Portsmouth Campus, and it isn’t unusual to see her editing student essays, red pen in hand – English skills learned from her mother.

“Before I leave here today, I’ll have 99 different hugs,” Scott said, sitting alongside the Fred Beazley statue on the quad.

Scott never felt smart. Having earned her degree with plans to transfer to Norfolk State University, she says, “I feel smart now.”

Scott plans to enroll in a non-licensing teaching program at NSU. She has a vision of helping elementary school children better prepare for middle school both academically and socially. She wants “Honeybees” to be a place where parents can bring their children struggling with homework or other issues.

First, she plans to enjoy her moment on Wednesday.

“I am proudly going to march across the stage on May 8,” she says. “I have a little urn of my mother’s ashes. I’m putting that urn in my pocket and I’m taking my mother across the stage, so she can see, and I can say, ‘Look, Ma. I have a degree!’ ”