At 73, Carolyn Wilkerson has completed her lifelong dream of earning a bachelor’s degree.
“My journey has been one the most rewarding personal decisions that I’ve ever made,” Wilkerson said. “This is probably the only major milestone that I have ever established for myself. I’ve done some things that I think are monumental but nothing of this magnitude, especially at my age. This has been quite rewarding. The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, and it’s been a phenomenal journey.”
The Little Rock native will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in applied communication and a minor in sociology this month from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Wilkerson joined UA Little Rock in 2016, fulfilling a promise she made to herself many years ago.
“I didn’t go to college when I graduated high school,” she said. “I always said to myself that when I retire, I am going to go to college. After I retired, my daughter opened a daycare, and I started helping her. Then my children reminded me that I said I was going to go. I always wanted a college degree.”
Having graduated from Little Rock’s Horace Mann High School in 1965, Wilkerson is the third of her high school classmates who have graduated from UA Little Rock in recent years, including Philip Bryant in 2016 and Vivian Littrell in 2019.
“When I came out of high school, I went to vocational school and I ended up with a very nice job,” Wilkerson said. “Once you get into the job market and you make good money, it’s hard to quit to go to school, especially as a mother and wife. I had a friend who encouraged me to go, Philip Bryant.”
Being the eldest of eight children and only the second to earn a college degree, Wilkerson said her extended family has mixed views on her decision to pursue a college degree at 68.
“Needless to say, every possible mental reason not to attend surfaced, reminding me of the time span, the young students on campus, and that real loud voice that said ‘You’re a grandmother,’” she said. “A couple of my sisters and some of my family members think I am crazy. They couldn’t believe I would do this at my age. This is something I wanted to do for me, not for anybody else.”
Wilkerson and her husband, Ronald, pastor of Faith Temple Deliverance Church of God in Christ, have a blended family with a total of seven children, 24 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
“My husband has been the greatest supporter anyone could have asked for. He got his master’s degree three or four years ago, so whatever I needed to do to make the grade was okay with him,” Wilkerson said. “My children all graduated college and quite well, but I never saw that for myself. They said, ‘Momma, we got it from somewhere. I did not ever think that I would make the Chancellor’s List or the Dean’s List, but I’ve done that nine times and will graduate Cum Laude.”