Right after graduating from high school in 1978, Robyn Berry went to college where she grew up in El Paso, Texas.
“I went for a year and decided it wasn’t for me,” she said.
About six years later, another stint in college got her within 23 credit hours of a degree, but marriage, children and other obligations in life prevented her from making it to a diploma.
In 2021, she enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and, 45 years after she took her first college class, she earned her degree.
“I feel wonderful and accomplished. It just feels like closure,” she said minutes after her commencement ceremony on May 5. “I wish my mom and dad were here. My dad would be really proud.”
It’s not just any degree she earned, either. She is one of the first five graduates of the new bachelor’s in applied science: applied leadership degree, a fully online program designed for adults who have prior college and/or work experience, but haven’t been able to complete four-year degrees.
“I saw it and my heart started beating and I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, I can’t finish it,’” Berry said. “And, I don’t know, just the more I thought about it, the more I started getting excited. Not finishing is something that I’ve always regretted.”
Not only is she one of the first graduates, she also was named Outstanding Senior in the BAS-AL program for the 2022-2023 academic year.
“Robyn has been a dedicated student, working diligently to complete all of her coursework and maintaining her grades throughout the process, which is why we selected her for the Outstanding Senior award,” said Dr. Beth Crawford, UC Foundation professor and program advisor for the Learning and Leadership programs. “Contemporary learners like Robyn are the primary focus of this degree program, which provides opportunities for online learning and completion of a bachelor’s degree in a flexible format that meets their needs.”
Berry, who has lived in Chattanooga for about 12 years and works for CHI Memorial Mountain Management Services, said she is grateful for the support and encouragement of her two grown daughters, her fiancé and co-workers for making it possible to earn her degree.
Her two daughters, 35-year-old Lauryn Beard who lives in Reno , Nevada, and 32-year-old Carly Patterson, who lives in Chattanooga, attended her graduation.
Beard said she was “very proud and very happy” for her mother’s accomplishment.
“I hadn’t felt like she was living for herself for a long time. I’m also not surprised because that is her personality,” Beard said.
Berry’s sister, Kate Watkins from Dallas, Texas, also was at the commencement ceremony and said she had tears in her eyes while watching.
“She works hard, has goals and sticks to them,” Watkins said.
Berry’s fiancé, Jim Lockwood, echoed Watkins.
“I’m not surprised that Robyn returned to school. She is a lifelong learner and loves a good challenge.
“She worked really hard for this day. I am so happy for her.”