Long Road Toward College Degree Comes to an End

Josette Boons

Josette Boons’ path to a college degree is a story of perseverance, determination and a will to do whatever it took to finish her education.

Boons began her remarkable journey with one year of college in 1986. That didn’t work out, so she took some time off before attending respiratory therapy school, right down to the final class in 1995.

“I’ll never forget the class,” she said. “It was equipment and I had such a hard time taking things apart and putting them back together. I was married with two kids and I studied for my final, but I didn’t study the equipment part of taking a ventilator apart and putting it back together.”

That proved to be a critical mistake.

“I had my cap and gown, ready to graduate, and I made a 75 on my final,” she said. “You had to have a 76 to pass. Yes, it was that close. And I cried.”

Boons was determined to take the remaining class over the following semester, but her daughter’s asthma required hospitalization, making it impossible for her to go to school. She chalked up a degree to something not meant to be and started a career in health care, serving people with mental health issues and mental retardation.

Practice What You Preach
A decade went by before the urge to finish what she’d started resurfaced thanks to a combination of her career advancement stalling and wanting to set the example for her children.

“I have two kids and you can’t lecture to them about getting an education, no matter what they’re doing in life, if you haven’t done yours,” she said. “Plus, I was working as a secretary and I had topped out in raises. The work kept increasing, but the money was going nowhere.”

“I decided at that point, you know what? I’ve been sitting here for now 11 years,” she said. “Had I just taken a class a semester I could have been done with something. So, I decided to go to school.”

This time around, Boons chose teaching and spent four years as a part-time student to earn her Associate’s degree from the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Tech while working full time. Transferring to Henderson State University, she demonstrated the depth of her resolve, driving to school in Arkadelphia on her days off twice a week. The brutal schedule aside, she was progressing nicely when disaster struck again.

“Got out the car, stepped on the water meter, it caved in and I fell down,” she said. “Ended up breaking my hip, having to have surgery.”

“My older sister, whom I love to death, took time off work because nobody else could do it to drive me to Henderson. She sat with me while I went to my classes so that I could complete that semester and then the next semester.”

Enter eVersity
Boons’ sister may have had the will to get her through the course, but she didn’t have unlimited time off from work. Without a means to get to class, Boons reentered the job market and contemplated her next move.

“I came to work at UAMS and worked three years before I started looking at finishing,” she said. “I wanted to be able to finish school, but I needed to do it online because I now worked Monday through Friday and if I had to drive to school, I’m not going to be able to do it.”

Her sister suggested eVersity, an option that Boons said she didn’t take seriously.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know about that strictly online business. I don’t have time for that,'” she said. “It wouldn’t leave my mind though, so one day at work I was like, ‘let me just click on this eVersity.’ I clicked on there … and somebody called me.”

Boons’ experience with eVersity wasn’t without its challenges. Her high school misfiled her transcripts, which took time to straighten out. Then, her father was diagnosed with cancer and she came close to dropping out to care for him.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, why is this happening?” she said. “Why every time I get started in school something happens. My oldest sister said, ‘Oh, no. You’re not stopping this time for nobody. We got to figure this out. Whatever we need to do, you’re not going to stop.’”

In addition to her family’s support, Boons came to rely on her eVersity advisor who shepherded her through the entire process, lining up classes and keeping her on track. In fact, she remembers only one issue during the roughly 18 months she took classes.

“In October 2017 I was upset with the school,” she said. “I emailed them, ‘This has never happened before. My next class is not lined up. I need to know what’s going on.’ They emailed me back and they were like, ‘Well, unless you want to go for something else, you completed your classes.’ I hadn’t been keeping track of them.”

“I was like ‘Oh my God! I cannot believe I did this.’ For weeks I was still saying to myself, ‘You actually finished school, girl!’”

The Gift
Boons kept the good news to herself, wanting to surprise the family at the appropriate time.

It wasn’t easy to pull off because by now so much of her family was invested in her success they were constantly badgering her about her homework. She strung people along until Christmas when she wrapped up her degree and gave it to her husband.

“Out of all these years he’s probably like, ‘Thank God this child got something,’” she laughed. “We have spent money. She done started school, stopped school, she done put me through hell because when she wants to study, she wants to study. She wants the house quiet. She kicked me out of the bedroom, because that’s where she studies.”

Boons did the same thing for her father, whose support and continued bravery fighting cancer was an inspiration.

“I gave it to my dad because when he found out he had cancer, he was the first one to say to me, ‘Do not change what you’re doing. You keep going,” she said. “So it was like, this doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to them because they had to put up with me for all these years trying. You all take it. It’s y’all’s. I just needed to complete it.” “I didn’t ever want to just start something and never finish. I had to keep telling myself, ‘You can motivate everybody else, motivate yourself. You listen to yourself and you do the same.’ And I did.”