Parkersburg, W.Va., 5/18/12 – Providing accessible, life-changing educational opportunities in a supportive environment is a mission in which West Virginia University at Parkersburg prides itself. Two married couples discovered just how life-changing the experience would be as they embarked on a journey to complete their education. On Saturday, May 12, the hard work, support and dedication all paid off as Kenneth and Vanese Cedar and Max and Nancy Sterrett walked across the stage to receive their Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA) degrees.
For the Sterrett’s, earning a bachelor’s degree was always a mutual goal. However, Max and Nancy followed different paths to get there. Nancy, a graduate of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center, began taking classes seven years ago. She received an associate’s degree in 2009 through an agreement with WVU Parkersburg and is now one of the first Meredith Manor graduates to take advantage of the RBA agreement between the two schools.
Max, WVU Parkersburg’s multi-craft technology program coordinator, graduated with two associate’s degrees from Vincennes University in Indiana immediately after high school. While running the maintenance department for a local Fortune 500 company, he made the decision to go back to school to enhance his education.
“My wife was very supportive over the years and encouraged me to complete my degree,” said Max. “I had just started a new job in a completely different field and had a number of issues to overcome as I was taking classes.”
With two children, ages 16 and 6, the Sterrett’s had to arrange a schedule in order to meet the needs of the family and still complete their coursework. Although they graduated together, Max and Nancy only ever took one class, environmental science, together.
“It was probably for the best. We were very competitive and each tried to outdo the other,” said Max. “I remember getting an email from the instructor expressing disappointment that only three students received an A for the assignment. I was relieved to find out that I was one of those students, and I began to give my wife a hard time about it – until she pointed out that she had gotten an A as well!”
But the journey is not over yet. Max and Nancy both plan to go on to complete their master’s degrees. “It means a lot to me that we crossed that stage together and can share our accomplishment,” said Max. “I hope that our daughters learn from us.”
It was a combination of unfortunate events, a shared goal and perseverance that led high school sweethearts Kenneth and Vanese Cedar of Ravenswood, W.Va. to WVU Parkersburg’s spring commencement ceremony. Kenneth lost his job in 2009 when the Century Aluminum shut down, creating hundreds of displaced workers. It was then that the two decided to enroll in college. The path wasn’t easy, however.
With six kids, Kenneth and Vanese had to take turns studying and taking care of things at home. They found that taking classes together helped them push forward.
“We would study together when we had a test for the same class,” said Vanese. “We had a competition to see who could get a better grade.”
In January 2011, they faced the biggest challenge of all. Their son developed acute respiratory disease syndrome, putting him in a medically induced coma for six weeks. The Cedar’s were told that their son had less than a 40 percent chance of surviving.
“The faculty and staff at the college worked with us so that neither of us had to drop any classes,” said Vanese. “It was hard to focus on schoolwork. There were times that we didn’t think he’d pull through.”
Now fully recovered, their son and his wife welcomed a new baby in March 2012.
Vanese said their experience at WVU Parkersburg is one they will never forget.
“It’s pretty awesome and overwhelming for us to be able to graduate together. I turned 50 this year. My husband turned 48. As a couple doing it together, we are now closer in a lot of ways. I would just like to thank everyone at the college. It was a rewarding and positive experience. It’s kind of hard to leave now.”
Because of their 24 years working with children as foster parents, the Cedar’s both plan to pursue careers in Child Protective Services.
“It’s a passion we both share,” said Vanese.