By: Tiffany King
January 3, 2024

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” These words never rang truer than they did on graduation day for Gwendolyn Knight. The phrase nicely decorated the top of her graduation cap, and as she moved her tassel from right to left, she knew her goal was accomplished. In December 2023, at the age of 73, Knight finally earned her long-awaited degree—a Bachelor’s of Science in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Coastal Georgia—and along with it, dispelled any lasting doubts that she has more than what it takes to succeed.

Knight was born in Moultrie, Georgia. After moving around due to her father’s work, her family settled in Brunswick. She attended Sydney Lanier Grammar School, Glynn County Junior High (now Glynn Middle School), and graduated from Glynn Academy in 1968. As the youngest child, and also female, she wasn’t encouraged to go to college. However, many of her friends were going to college, so she decided to follow suit and enrolled in Brunswick Junior College. Knight didn’t stay too long at BJC and left to join the workforce, but she vowed to go back to college and earn her associate degree.

“I finished my two-year degree in 1983. It was in secretarial science because when I was going to school, there weren’t as many opportunities for women as there are now,” Knight said. “It felt good to have that two-year degree. I wanted to continue to finish and earn a bachelor’s, but things just didn’t work out. Life got in the way.”

Finding Her Way Back

Knight held various jobs over the years, including working in telecommunications, writing advertisement for radio, doing a few television commercials, and other administrative duties. She raised two daughters, Stephanie and Jennifer, and helped care for her grandchildren. Her daughter, Stephanie (also known as Assistant Professor of English Dr. Stephanie Conner) encouraged her to go back to college and take advantage of the University System of Georgia’s 62 and Older Program. This program gives Georgia residents aged 62 and older the opportunity to take courses on a space available basis at little or no cost. In 2017, Knight enrolled at the College of Coastal Georgia at the age of 67 to earn her bachelor’s. She didn’t take courses every semester, but when she did, she enjoyed them very much, such as psychology, art history, and especially philosophy.

“I was a little bit nervous, but it was so much fun. The young people were so accepting of me and it felt really good. I made friends with some of them, especially the girls, and they were very sweet,” she said. “They would say, ‘Oh you’re coming back to school!’ and I would say, ‘The good news is it’s better late than never.’ But really, it’s better now. It’s important to think about what you’re doing right now because that’s what’s going to help you in life when you get past this point.”

Even when her friends expressed how they couldn’t see themselves going to college at their age, Knight remained undeterred.

“I love learning and challenging myself, so that’s what I kept doing. Sometimes I would take one or two classes, then all of a sudden, I said, ‘I’m getting close!’ That’s when I realized that I could do this,” Knight said. “It’s been challenging and eye-opening. I would recommend that any older person come back to school. There are things they’re teaching now that I didn’t hear when I was going through the school system—especially in the history classes.”

When Knight returned to BJC in the 80s, she remembered how great the professors and staff were. Now, she still finds that the faculty at the College are amazing. Some of her favorite professors include Dr. David Mulry, professor of English, Dr. Robert Bleil, chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities and professor of English, and Dr. Hector Montford, assistant professor of history, whom she described as an “excellent teacher.” When she was required to take statistics, Knight thought she wouldn’t graduate. Despite her initial doubts, she remained motivated in the class and made an A.

“I would have never dreamed that I would make an A in statistics. It has a lot to do with the teacher. Jamie Berrie (Lecturer of Mathematics) is an excellent teacher,” Knight said. “She emailed me and said that I didn’t have to take the final, and that she was proud of me for my dedication and work. I told her it was her teaching that helped me and made it easier to understand.”

Knight majored in interdisciplinary studies, which she described as a great degree for people who’ve had various life experiences. At one point, Knight found herself in an upper level interdisciplinary methods course. It was very challenging for Knight as she didn’t understand the textbook. She took a step back and focused on what the book was really trying to teach students.

“It really showed how the different disciplines have to work together to come up with solutions. Sometimes, it’s not just one discipline that can do it, but you have to know the right questions to ask. When you know the right questions to ask, then you can bring in the other disciplines,” Knight said. “I figured that out and made an A in the course. I thought, ‘If I can do that, then I can make it.’”

Her academic achievements were recognized when she was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honor society in spring 2023. It was one of her favorite moments. At the induction ceremony, her English professors were dressed in full regalia, giving her a preview of what it would be like at graduation.

“Being inducted into Sigma Tau Delta really meant a lot. When I was in junior high, a teacher told me that I wasn’t good at comprehension. I never really felt like I was smart and that I could do certain things. It was great to know that I could come back to school and excel in that area,” she said.

This past Thanksgiving, Conner gifted her mother with a Sigma Tau Delta medal. Knight cried at receiving the gift because she never expected to be honored in that way.

“Often, for different reasons, we’re made to feel like we’re not smart, especially in the time I was growing up, and if you were a girl,” Knight said. “For me to be out here, see how things have changed throughout the years, see how diverse it is, and how many things are open to women, it’s amazing. I like feeling that I’m a part of it somehow.”

You Can Do It Too

Knight always tells her friends that if she can do it, they can too. Going back to college kept her from getting into a rut and sticking to one way of thinking, she said.

“That’s why I think it’s great for people my age, so you can understand the world a little better,” she said. “The world is changing, and I’ve seen it change so much. In some ways, it’s hard for me, and in other ways, I love the opportunities that people are having that they didn’t have before.”

Knight shared that in her first marriage, her then-husband attended the University of Georgia. Although Knight worked on the campus, it was difficult being around his friends who were all going to college. They talked about college life and the things they were learning. Looking back, she said it would have been great if she attended college then as well.

“I just didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college, but it just shows that you need to put all that aside and do what you think you should do. Don’t let anyone discourage you,” she said.

The Next Chapter

What’s next for Knight? She’s not sure yet. Since she loves to learn, she may continue to further her education, or try her hand at writing. Knight realized that she is a good writer and has looked into some editing jobs. She called this transition time bittersweet because she wishes she had done this—earning a degree, figuring out her career, etc.—much sooner in life. Like many people, she wonders how life would’ve been different if she pursued her goals sooner rather than later.

“It’s great that I’m doing it now. I think what I’ve learned has made me a better citizen, a better person in the world,” she said. “Even though I’m the age that I am, I feel like more things are going to open to me now that I have my degree. I don’t know for sure what I’m going to do, but I can figure it out because now I have more options.”

As she ponders on what to do next, Knight will continue to spend her time working at Talbots on St. Simons Island, gardening, playing the piano, and renovating houses—one of her favorite pastimes. Knight has gained more than a degree at the College of Coastal Georgia. She’s proven to herself that she has the ability and intelligence to succeed in whatever she wants to do.