Lucinda DuBois had two children by the time she was 23 and one of her sons passed away when she was just 24. After that, she said, she felt she was drifting. A cancer diagnosis 10 years ago made her rethink her life and she decided to go back to school.
Aquila Hatcher-Taylor worked for seven years as an account services coordinator for a health care company when her job was outsourced to India. She [hatcher family] decided to take advantage of Gateway’s retraining program, pursuing a certificate in management and another in business office technologies. She’d received her B.S. years earlier and hadn’t been back in a classroom for a long time and worried about how she would do. She had four children, two of them just four and five years old, and the two older sons and a nephew who lived with her, all totally involved in basketball. She wasn’t about to miss a game.
Each of these amazing women represents a significant segment of the Gateway Community College student body that often goes unnoticed this time of year. They do not look like your typical college student, and they come and go in a rush from home to work to school and back, focused on a goal that means as much to those who depend on them as it does to themselves. Their stories are worth noting, because they prove that, in spite of life’s challenges, it can be done!
While working toward her associate degree in the Drug, Alcohol and Recovery Counselor Program at Gateway, Lucinda (Cindi) DuBois had to undergo many surgeries related to her cancer. But she pushed on. “My greatest joy started with my first class, English 101, when a story I wrote about my son’s death won second place in a writing contest and it continued throughout my college experience,” she said.
A pivotal moment came in Assistant Professor Eileen Russo’s class. DuBois was engaged in an exercise where she played the role of a client and her partner, a counselor. What they were discussing struck a chord and DuBois began to cry. Her classmates tried to comfort her, telling her she was a survivor. Russo stopped the class for a moment and said that what DuBois wanted wasn’t simply to survive but to thrive. “I’ve tried to do just that ever since,” DuBois said. “I’ve been working as an addiction counselor in a clinic since 2008 and I love that Gateway has led me here.”
“Cindi is working in her chosen field and she exemplifies what community colleges are all about- to help students meet real life challenges and provide the skills and knowledge needed for a career,” Russo said.
Aquilla Hatcher-Taylor says that somehow she made it through juggling classes, working in student activities, getting the kids to practice and dinner on the table. Her husband would take over with the kids after work and she’d race back to campus, often closing the computer lab at night. Some nights she found herself at the kitchen table studying and writing papers until the sun started to come up.
“I set the bar very high for myself,” she said. Each semester she’d get a 3.9 or a 3.97, just a whisper under 4.0. She was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. This semester, she attained that 4.0. “It was really hard, all of it,” she said. “But every single one of my professors at Gateway supported me and cared about my success.”
Now that they’ve graduated, what’s next?
DuBois plans to go on to Springfield College for a human services degree. She encouraged her son Leigh to attend Gateway; he received a certificate in computer repair and has gone on to another college to study graphic and web design. “Cancer may have started out trying to take my life but the exact opposite happened; it gave me a life worth living,” she said. “Graduation is huge. I never thought I would graduate from high school, never mind college!”
Hatcher-Taylor says the best part is that she’s already got a new job. In fact, she started part-time in January. One of her professors promised to keep an eye out for jobs and when she heard about an opening in the VA Connecticut Research and Education Foundation Inc., a research division of the Veterans Administration, she let Hatcher know. Her part-time job becomes a full-time position in June and she couldn’t be happier. “I love it there,” she said.