When Jeanetta Bates, now a senior at the University of Tennessee at Martin Ripley Center, returned to college, she had the same fears as many freshmen students: Would she do well in class? Would she make friends? How would she fit everything into each day?
However, she also struggled with another concern. Bates did not know how to turn on a computer.
“I was always so afraid of technology because of my age. My daughter would tell me, ‘Mom, it’s not going to jump up and bite you. If you punch the wrong button, learn by your mistakes,’” said Bates. The mother of five and grandmother of many, Bates was afraid she would not be able to keep up with her younger classmates.
Dr. Winkler, a former professor, gave her a few words of wisdom to calm her fears. “He told me, because of my age, not to be intimidated by the younger students, that I would go far. So I made up my mind that I was not going to be intimidated,” she said. “I persevered, I stuck to it, and I’m here now.
“Spelling was my worst subject, and I was computer illiterate when I came. Now I can cut the computer on, so I’m no longer illiterate that way,” she said, laughing. “You can only do your best. Once you render your best, no matter what it is, you can’t give anything else. I held onto those things.”
Bates initially decided to return to college after her daughter Stephanie received her degree and made plans to open a community center near the family home in Ripley. Bates, always interested in serving others, decided to pursue a social work degree and work alongside Stephanie at the new center.
“I wanted to utilize what they have in this community,” Bates said, referring to the UT Martin Ripley Center. “I was close to home so there were some of my fears eliminated.”
Bates eventually changed from a social work major to an interdisciplinary studies degree in order to balance her demanding school schedule with home life and family responsibilities. But even the change in focus didn’t deter her from putting her best into each subject, and her efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“I remember the first time my grandchildren came by the (UT Martin) Ripley Center, and they saw my picture up high. My granddaughter shared with me that she was so proud of me,” said Bates. All but one of her children have decided to return to school as well, and Bates hopes to have the whole family in college soon.
“It was challenging, it is challenging, because of my lifestyle and the things I’ve gone through … but when I put it all together and count it all up, I am who I am and I can make things better for myself,” she said.
There have been times when family responsibilities threatened to pull Bates from the classroom, however. Her mother passed away in January of this year, and Bates considered dropping out at that point. However, her mother had other plans for her.
“On her dying day, she called me to the bed, and she shared with me, ‘Jeanette, whatever happens, I’m not gonna quit. You promise me that you won’t quit either,’” she said.
Now, at the age of 63, she is nearing the finish line.
“When I get that paper in December, I’m gonna walk,” she said proudly. “I’m gonna walk for my mom; I’m gonna walk for my brother; I’m gonna walk for my children, and I’m gonna walk for my grandchildren.
“I would tell a person who’s coming back (to college) to go for it. You don’t have to go far, especially if you’re here in the community,” she said. “Don’t be down on yourself, and don’t be afraid to share that you don’t know how, because if you don’t know how, that’s an opportunity to learn how.
“There is power in education. There is power in a degree. There is power in your community, so why not utilize the services being offered right in your community?” Bates said. “You may have challenges and difficulties, but at least you are home.”
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