22-year persistence pays off with diploma

January 4, 2011
By Bill Teeter Tribune-Herald staff writer
Saturday December 25, 2010

It's a fair bet that most of this year's December Baylor University graduates hadn't learned to walk, if they were even born, when Jeanie Evans Fitzpatrick began working on her bachelor's degree.
She took her first class at Baylor 22 years ago. During the years, she chipped away at the business administration degree in real estate one class at a time, giving up her lunch hours from her administrative support job at Baylor to take classes.

On Dec. 18, she donned a cap and gown to walk the commencement stage and receive her diploma.

Fitzpatrick said that not having to register is an odd sensation after school became a fixture in her life semester after semester.

"I don't know quite how to feel," said Fitzpatrick, 54, of Riesel. "I didn't have to register for classes, and it felt kind of strange."

Besides her job at Baylor, Fitzpatrick helps her husband, Roger Fitzpatrick, and other family members run a small business in Riesel, the End Zone Mini Mart. She has one grown daughter, Lindsey Rodgers.

Roger Fitzpatrick said he is proud of his wife for completing the degree.

"It's been tough through the years she's been doing it. I'm proud that she stuck it out and finished it," he said.

Jeanie Fitzpatrick plans on retiring after she turns 55 and starting a new career in real estate appraisal.

Fitzpatrick is a Waco native who graduated from University High School in 1975. She attended McLennan Community College, earning an associate's degree in radiological technology, before accepting a job at Baylor in 1983.

Five years later, she began taking classes at Baylor. She adjusted her work schedule to make sure she fulfilled her work commitments, but still got to class.

Generally, taking classes meant eating her lunch at her desk in the office, she said.

Fitzpatrick works for Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work. She took a hiatus from her studies for about eight years when work duties made it difficult to take classes, she said.

In 2005, she decided to get going again and finished this semester to walk the stage, attracting congratulatory hugs as she passed.

"We're all excited for her," Garland said.

Garland said Fitzpatrick is a very focused person with a sense of determination about getting things accomplished. While she did her studies, the quality of her work never suffered, she said.

"She always got the job done," Garland said.

Going to college at an older age didn't matter, Fitzpatrick said. The younger students either didn't notice her or treated her like any other, she said.

Awkward occasion

There were awkward moments sometimes in class. One such occasion unfolded when a marketing instructor, who was younger than her, asked Fitzpatrick if she had seen a movie dramatizing the U.S. Olympic hockey team's victory against the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics.

She said she hadn't seen the movie but that for her, it didn't matter.

"I actually watched the game when it happened," she said.

Some people question why she would bother completing the degree, Fitzpatrick said.

She gives two reasons.

"I hate leaving things unfinished and, No. 2, I think education always has a value, no matter what age you are," she said.
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