For Mary Fish of Sikeston, Missouri, this Saturday’s commencement will mark the final step towards a 10-year dream.
Fish will graduate May 13 from Southeast Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology.
“When I graduated high school, college just wasn’t in my plan at that time,” Fish said. “I got married and had my two daughters. When they graduated high school, I thought I should go too. I realized it’s important, and it was something I wanted to accomplish.”
In 2007, she decided to immerse herself in the experience of going to college as much as possible.
“I didn’t want to just go completely online,” Fish said. “I wanted to have the experience of being in the classroom and with other students.”
Southeast’s Sikeston Regional Campus allowed her to gain that personal experience, while staying close to her family and work with the Sikeston Board of Education.
“Facing college after that many years, it was a little intimidating at first,” she said. “I knew I could do the work, but those kids were fresh out of high school and they had all the courses to prepare them. When I was in high school, I had ninth grade algebra and that was it. But I’ve always had the attitude that I can do what I set my mind to do.”
That can-do assertiveness has been her steadying force over the years.
“It can be a little rough to work 40 hours or more a week and study on the weekends,” Fish said. “You don’t have time for much else sometimes.”
Looking back, the rough patches have been difficult, Fish said,from coping with her mother’s Alzheimer’s and her husband’s heart health to a daughter’s cystic fibrosis and her own battle with depression.
This final semester has been the toughest, she said, as she dealt with the death of her mother and an accident requiring two surgeries on her foot, forcing her to be bedridden for nearly six weeks.
“I wanted to take a break. I thought about it, but I had to come back. I wanted to finish,” said Fish. “But my grandchildren were an inspiration to keep going.”
Mary Fish and her daughters Rachel Raley and Melissa McDowell.
Her daughters and husband have been supportive every step of the way, including her husband who drove her to Cape Girardeau for her final class and her daughter who typed as Fish dictated because her hands were to weak from the pain caused by neuropathy.
“It’s been a long semester, but it feels so good to be this close to done,” she said.
After 10 years, the excitement leading up to graduation has affected her whole family.
“When I asked my daughters and husband if I should go to commencement, they said I had to — they couldn’t miss seeing me walk,” Fish said. “I even wasn’t going to do announcements, but my husband insisted.”
As the finals days of the semester come to an end, Fish looks forward to the next phase ahead. Her dream job is to be a counselor.
“I’ve always liked helping people,” she said. “I’ve been helped through counseling. I think mental illness isn’t as much of a stigma, and people are seeking out help. If I can be of part of that and help others, that would be fulfilling for me.”
To fulfill her own dream, she’ll have to earn her master’s degree, she said.
“It’s something I’d need to go back for more school and another a degree for, but I’m not too old yet,” she said.
For now, she looks forward to next week.
“I’ll be so proud to display my diploma,” Fish said.