Co-workers, Lifelong Friends Complete Degree Journey

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Thousands of college graduates will leave their university campuses for the last time this weekend, but that won't be the case for two Wichita State University graduates who have already been on campus for more than 20 years.

Judy Barnes and Marci Nelson say they have done nearly everything together over the past 40 years. Now, they can add earning a college degree to that list.

"We got really serious about taking class in 1998," Barnes said.

Wichita State introduced a program in 1998 allowing university employees to take one class each semester for free. Nelson and Barnes, lifelong friends who work together in WSU's psychology department took advantage of it.

"We'd just take one class at a time, Barnes said. "And with the benefit of the university helping us, we've gotten this far."

Fifteen years later, Judy, 73, and Marci, 65, have each earned bachelor's degrees. It is just the latest in a long line of experiences they have shared since 1971.

"Her kids and my kids grew up together and we come to work together," Barnes said.

"We carpooled before it was even cool," Nelson added.

Why start work on a degree after already establishing a career?

"Just to see if we could do it," Nelson said.

She and Barnes also wanted to show their grandchildren it could -- and should -- be done. Nelson and her grandson were even classmates one semester.

Proud family members of both ladies were at Friday's commencement ceremonies to celebrate. Judy's brother Bill Garrison traveled to Wichita from Grand Junction, Colo.

"I picked up my 81-year-old sister in Kansas City and brought her down for this and it's been a great time," he said.

Garrison credits the college environment Judy has been part of for 26 years with keeping her young.

"I think the college kids have been very good for her to keep her young and vibrant," Garrison said.

Judy and Marci still have plenty of energy left. They proved that dancing across the stage Friday afternoon. Will that energy be used to begin work on a master's degree?

"We might take a break first," Judy said. "We'll ponder that one."

One thing Marci and Judy say they know for sure is they will continue to be fixtures in the psychology department and they will continue to help students achieve the goal they just have.

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