Walking the Graduation Stage after 40 Years

Posted December 04, 2023, 11:47AM

While North Carolina Central University (NCCU) encourages undergraduates to complete their studies in four years, sometimes life just gets in the way.

Felicia Lindsay understands that. And this December, 40 years after first stepping onto the NCCU campus, Lindsay will collect her degree.

Lindsay was born in Queens, New York, but attended junior and high schools in Durham, her mother’s hometown. She enrolled at NCCU in fall 1983. During that term, she found out she was pregnant.

“My family was very disappointed and sent me back to New York,” Lindsay said.

She married her son’s father, a high school friend, but the marriage didn’t last. As a single parent, Lindsay found raising a son and working fulltime difficult enough without adding university.

She was hired by a Walmart and worked the late shift as a cashier. After school, her son would go to a friend’s house and do his homework and Lindsay would pick him up after her shift ended at midnight. The hours and wages improved when she was promoted to customer service and later to supervisor of front of the store.

“It was a struggle for many years,” Lindsay said. “(My son) turned out great.”

In 2018, Lindsay decided to give college another chance. Her son was grown and married with two sons of his own. Her aunt – who earned both a bachelor’s and law degree at NCCU – also encouraged.

“She’s an advocate for education,” Lindsay said. “It doesn’t matter if you are 16 or 68.”

She found a new employer who, though paying less, would offer her the flexibility to attend classes. Concerned about whether she could handle university coursework after a 35-year hiatus, she started at Durham Technical Community College.

She had challenges. In 2019, she woke up one day with double vision and a continuation of weakening in her legs. She went to an emergency room and ended up in front of a neurologist who diagnosed an autoimmune disease named Myasthenia Gravis. It is incurable but non-life threatening and could be treated with medication.

“I went to Durham Tech with an eyepatch,” Lindsay said. “I felt if I let anything stop me (from attending college), life would get in the way of my continuing.”

She graduated magna cum laude from Durham Tech and in 2021 returned to NCCU, where she enrolled in interdisciplinary studies.

“My professors were great,” Lindsay said. “My classes were enjoyable.”

Then 56 years old and with a lifetime of employment behind her, Lindsay’s academic aim was more about enrichment than preparing for a career. She studied American government, psychology, history and other topics.

“I loved Dr. Jonathan Livingston, the psychology professor,” Lindsay said. “To the other NCCU students who work with me, I say you have to take his class.”

While her classes were great, she still had challenges. “I was having trouble walking,” Lindsay said. She responded by finding classrooms that were clumped together and taking online courses.

In September 2023, she underwent replacement of her left knee. Through physical therapy, cortisone injections and using a cane, she continued at NCCU with online courses and, as of November 2023, had a grade point average of 3.89.

On Dec. 9, 40 years after first arriving at college, Lindsay plans to walk across the NCCU graduation stage.

“Even if I have to use the cane, I’m going to be there,” Lindsay said.

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