55-year-old Penn State Mont Alto graduate is proof it's never to late to learn

May 05, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • Valerie Palmer, third from left, and Pamela Raynor smile while looking in the audience, Saturday during Penn State Mont Alto commencement at the Multipurpose Activities Center on campus at Mont Alto.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

MONT ALTO, Pa. — As the oldest graduate at Penn State Mont Alto’s spring commencement on Saturday, Kay Dawson is proof that it’s never too late to go back to school.

“I say never stop learning. I really enjoy learning,” said Dawson, 55, of Fayetteville, Pa. “There’s always something out there to learn about. It keeps your mind active, and it keeps you on the ball.”

Dawson received her bachelor of science degree in nursing on Saturday.

She earned a degree in elementary education from Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 1978. But after working in day care, Dawson found job opportunities were limited when she tried to return to teaching.

So in her late 30s, Dawson enrolled at Penn State Mont Alto to enter the nursing field. She graduated as a licensed practical nurse in 1997 and began working at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital.

Dawson earned her associate degree in nursing from Penn State Mont Alto in 2003 to become a registered nurse.

“I think education is always a good way to get a step up and get a change of pace,” she said.

Amy Lawson, 51, of McConnellsburg, Pa., battled seemingly insurmountable odds to receive her diploma.

In November 2009, Lawson was laid off from the company that she had been employed with for more than 20 years.

“I enrolled at Penn State, and after 2 1/2 years earned an associate degree as a physical therapy assistant,” she said.

While attending college, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011.

Undaunted, Lawson soldiered on, attending class while undergoing chemotherapy.

Lawson is in remission and is looking forward to a bright future.

“We’re not done yet,” Lawson said. “I want to get a job. I want to make some money, and I want to live a little.”

Approximately 152 students participated in Saturday’s commencement held at the school’s Multipurpose Activities Center.

Franklin County Commissioner Robert Ziobrowski was the keynote speaker. His speech compared the game of golf to life.

“The key to success in life, like in golf, is putting yourself in a position to aim for the pin. A good drive, or preparation, will put you in that position,” Ziobrowski said. “There will be risks, but taking a calculated risk leads to great rewards.”

He told the members of the Class of 2012 to take some risks.

“Take a challenging course outside your major, marry the person you love even if you’re not ready because frankly, most of us are never really ready,” Ziobrowski said. “Have children, go for the better job, form your own business, run for office, don’t be afraid of failure.”

Ziobrowski shared some of his own experience with the graduates.

“My father was a surgeon, my mother was a teacher. I grew up in Chambersburg with all the advantages ... I followed my sister and brother to Ivy League schools. Sounds like nothing could go wrong, but it did,” he said. “I flunked out of school twice. Over the next 10 years, I was the night manager of a pool hall. I drove a sandwich truck. I tended bar at a resort in the Poconos.”

But at 28, he said he began to “aim for the pin.”

“I met a woman — a Mont Alto and Penn State grad — and asked her to marry me,” Ziobrowski said. “I left bartending and took a pay cut to go into sales.”

That move led to his starting his own real estate appraisal business.

“At age 45, I went back to college and six years later, completed my bachelor’s degree in economics from Wilson College and about five years ago, against 5-to-1 odds, I ran for and was elected county commissioner,” Ziobrowski said.

Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor David C. Gnage told the members of the Class of 2012 they have the tools to succeed.

“My charge is, continue to dream, continue to learn and go out there and do something great,” Gnage said.

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