It’s a common sight at college commencement ceremonies everywhere – joyful and often teary-eyed parents beam with pride from the audience while their son or daughter crosses the stage to receive a hard-earned degree.
At the spring commencement ceremony at Terra State Community College, however, the tables were turned. It was Ron and Betty Berger’s two sons who cheered from the crowd as Mom and Dad – yes, both of them – received degrees in health information technology and plastics technology, respectively.
“We occasionally have family members graduate together, but not often do we have a husband and wife,” said Dr. Jerome Webster, president of Terra State.
“It did feel kind of strange having our kids there in the audience while we were the ones graduating,” said 52-year-old Betty.
The uncommon feat wasn’t planned that way originally, said Ron. Betty enrolled first, and earned her degree – along with certificates in medical coding and medical scribe – in three years. Ron, 57, graduated summa cum laude after three semesters. Last fall, they realized they were on schedule to graduate at the same time.
For Betty, it was her first time returning to the classroom since her high school graduation.
“Our kids are grown now, and it just seemed like a good time to go back and get a degree,” she said. “I’ve always been intrigued with the medical field, but I knew that nursing wasn’t something that I would get into. Health information technology was a perfect match for me. Now I’m sending out resumes and studying to take my (Registered Health Information Technician) exam.”
Ron, who has spent several years working as a lab technician in the plastics industry, decided to return to school to update his skills and improve his hiring potential in a competitive job market. He attended the University of Toledo in the 1970s and studied chemistry, logging about 70 percent of the credits needed to graduate. He said finishing that degree is still on his to-do list.
“I always thought not having a degree was holding me back a little bit, and long-term I’d still like to get my chemistry degree,” Ron said. “But this degree enhances what I’ve already been doing. As a lab technician, you’re doing various tests but you may not always understand why. This degree helped me learn more about the ‘why’ of the things I do in the lab.”
Both Betty and Ron said they were lucky to be able to attend classes full time, although they were a little intimidated to return to school, thinking they would stand out in a sea of younger students. But they quickly found out that they weren’t the only non-traditional students on campus.
“We both would say that Terra State does a very good job of making you not feel intimidated as an older student,” Ron said. “We always felt very comfortable there, and it actually makes you feel younger to be back in college. Your mind is more active and you’re devoting your time to learning.”
Today, the Bergers are devoting their time to becoming productive members of the workforce.
“We’re looking for something within an hour radius. I’d like to stay as a lab technician somewhere, and I also learned the color matching aspect of the industry, so that will open the door for a color lab tech job somewhere,” Ron said.
Betty said she would like to work in a doctor’s office or a hospital, and added that Terra has helped them with their re-entry into the job market.
“Terra has a job board that we have used a couple times, and they work with you on developing your resume and sharpening your interview skills,” she said.
Armed with a post-secondary education in two in-demand fields, the Bergers look forward to whatever lies ahead. “We are confident that Ron and Betty have accumulated the knowledge and skill to be competitive in today’s job market, and we’re very excited about their future,” President Webster said. “They are one motivated couple.”
The Bergers encourage other non-traditional students to share in their motivation and return to the classroom. “It’s definitely worth it, and you’re never too old,” Ron said. “I would encourage anyone to go back to pursue a degree. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Betty said.