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Graduating Nontraditional Student


By Larry R. Forrester


2015 is an exciting year for me. It marks fifty years since I graduated from Staunton River High School in Moneta, Virginia. This year another graduation for me is about to take place here at Roanoke College. It is the culmination of a dream to graduate from Roanoke after a class visit in the spring of 1963. After touring the campus, I was hooked. I always liked the quiet and peacefulness of small gatherings and surroundings and Roanoke was perfect.

That night when I returned home, my parents asked if enjoyed my visit to the college, to which I answered yes. I talked with them and let them know that Roanoke was where I wanted to attend after graduating from high school. I was not shocked, but greatly deflated by their response. I was advised that they were struggling just to get me through high school even with me contributing from my part-time job. College had not been an option for them and they made it clear that it wasn’t an option for me either. As I remember, it appeared to bother my father, but my mom was adamant that I should forget the idea and concentrate on finding a full time job when I graduated in a couple of years.

I knew things were hard for mom and dad. Mom was sick a lot and my dad had just been diagnosed with leukemia. I put the idea on the back burner never to forget and made it a lifelong dream to graduate from Roanoke College. Whenever I came back to Roanoke I would drive by the campus just to look and dream. I kept saying, “one day, one day.”

I graduated from Staunton River High School June 7, 1965. After graduation I got a full time job at my father’s place of employment delivering furniture. In January 1966, I entered active duty in the U.S. Navy. I had joined the Naval Reserve in Roanoke in November 1963 and attended meetings once a week until I went on active duty. I served my time and returned home to work for several different employers. I worked in a parts house, in law enforcement, and in financial services. My wife and I married in 1974. I had continued in the reserves and in 1988 was recalled to active duty and assigned to Naval & Marine Corps Reserve Center Roanoke, VA as a recruiter.

On October 1, 2001, I was in a major car accident while recruiting and sustained multiple injuries and never recovered from several of them. I was able to continue with the Navy by being assigned to lighter desk duties. Then, after retiring from the Navy, I was not able to return to work. I requested through the Veterans Administration Vocational Rehabilitation Program to retrain for a new vocation.

I began studying at Virginia Western Community College in 2008 at a reduced class load. I received an AS in General Studies. In the fall of 2011, I started classes at Roanoke College. In a little over a month, I will graduate with a major in Creative Writing and minor in Literary Studies. Fifty years after my high school graduation, I will realize my longtime dream when I receive my diploma from Roanoke College. I once heard someone say “Don’t let anyone steal your dream.” I say, “Believe in God, yourself and, yes, hold on to your dreams.”