For 48-year-old Naomi Reardon, a long-delayed Ivy Tech Community College education transformed grief over a stepson’s death into a way to honor her lost loved one.
For Reardon’s 22-year-old daughter, Jodi, a college degree holds the promise of turning her passion for art and science into a way to make a living as a graphic designer and potential video-game artist.
This weekend, both mom and daughter will receive college diplomas on two different campuses, but their separate educational journeys are united by a common thread.
Both women refused to let medical or other hurdles earlier in life derail their ambition to earn college degrees.
As a toddler, Jodi overcame speech and hearing problems and evolved into a straight-A student in high school. She went on to attend Ivy Tech and go on to a four-year school to further her ambitions as a young artist.
Mother Naomi, as a 19-year-old, originally attended Indiana State University in the mid-1980s but now admits she wasn’t adequately prepared to start college at the time.
“Call it youth and stubbornness. I quit after the first year. But I always dreamed of going back,” she said.
Today, Naomi Reardon will earn a degree in applied science, industrial technology from the Ivy Tech-Columbus campus. Then on Sunday, daughter Jodi will pick up a Bachelor of Science degree in informatics and new media from IUPUI.
Despite her own accomplishments, Jodi gives the highest marks for determination to her mom.
“What my mother did was so encouraging to me,” Jodi said. “There were times at IUPUI that I wanted to quit, but because my mom was working so hard, I felt I had to keep going.”
Each woman’s story illustrates the importance of an education and demonstrates that second chances can pay off and ignite a lifelong passion for learning.
In Naomi Reardon’s case, landing at the Ivy Tech campus after more than two decades at work in offices and on manufacturing factory floors proved to be a lifesaver that rescued her from what she described as “a dark place.”
That began June 20, 2009, when her stepson Danny, 29, was killed in an auto accident.
“I couldn’t bring him back,” Reardon said. “But I needed to take the pain that I was feeling and do something positive with it. I couldn’t let it eat me up from inside.”
She decided to return to school after a 25-year absence. After dropping out of Indiana State in 1985, she had worked in offices doing accounting and for a temporary employment agency that placed her in various technical jobs over a three-year period at an auto parts factory near Greensburg.
It was there that Reardon said she improved her technical skills, learned more about engineering and developed a passion for making machines work efficiently.
In the summer 2010, she started classes at Ivy Tech with the goal of earning a degree and landing a job in quality control at some point.
But Reardon’s resolve was tested again that fall when gall bladder surgery almost made her miss several final exams. She took the battery of tests anyway while recovering from the operation and passed them.
“It wasn’t easy,” Reardon said. “There were many life storms along the way, and I was learning a whole new world. But education saved me. Instructors here (at Ivy Tech) have taken time out of their lives to make sure I succeeded.”
Reardon said she intends to enroll this fall in a long-distance learning program through Indiana State University and get a four-year degree in technology management. She may take some classes she’ll need for that bachelor’s degree at Ivy Tech, a place she has grown to love.
“I’m going to keep going to school as long as my mind and body will hold out,” Reardon said. She also calls daughter Jodi “the breath that keeps me going.”
Jodi said her mother pushed her to attend college after high school, and that prodding has paid off.
“My mom would say: ‘You have to go to college or you don’t have a choice in life.’”