by Adele Williams, Student Contributor
As a non-traditional student, Leela Thomas brings more life experience to Alice Lloyd College’s leadership program than most other students. Leela, of Hindman, Kentucky, is a senior majoring in History with a minor in English. She graduated from Knott County Central High School in 2001 and attended college directly afterwards at a large public university. When she found that this school wasn’t suited to her, she returned to her hometown and attended a local school.
After a short stint at Hazard Community & Technical College, she gave up on her education and focused on a job in the healthcare field. The job afforded her the ability to provide for herself, but when she tragically lost her mother to cancer, she made a promise to better herself for the sake of her future.
“I promised her that I would go back to school and get a degree,” Leela said. “I wanted to make her proud of me, and the thought of her not being proud scares me to death.”
In the absence of her mother, Leela finds the most support from her brother and sister and their families, with her friends coming in at a close second. While she said that almost all of the faculty and staff have supported her, Leela’s number one supporter on campus has been her work-study supervisor, Tammi Hall.
“Tammi is the best person I know,” she said. “She pushes me to be my best. She’s my ‘Momma Tam,’ and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I love her.”
Knowing how supportive and loving the ALC family is was a major factor in Leela deciding to attend Alice Lloyd. Being from Knott County and having practically grown up on the ALC campus, she felt comfortable at the College and already knew most of the faculty and staff. While there were many features that swayed Leela to come to ALC, the deciding factor was the cost.
“I’m going at this alone financially,” she said, “and I knew the education I could receive at ALC was just as good, if not better, than anywhere else, and cheaper too.”
Leela continued, “I sacrificed everything – my apartment, my job, my car, and even the independence of coming and going when I wanted to, but I know it was all worth it. I’m proud to know that my niece and nephews can see that I didn’t let anything stand in my way and that I have been successful in my endeavors. I hope they see what I’ve done, and can say, ‘I want to do what sissy did.'”
Leela plans to work for the Social Security Administration or to get a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) so that she can eventually teach History on the collegiate level. She hopes to stay close to home, and even mentioned possibly working at ALC one day, saying, “I’d love to get a job here after graduation. I love the people and the beautiful mountains.”
Leela has paved the way for students who may not have otherwise attempted to obtain their education because they are older or worried about the cost.
“I’m proof that you can do it,” she said. “I never thought that I would be here, but if you set goals and do whatever it takes to accomplish them, you will make it.”
She adds, “My brother-in-law once told me, ‘You’re going to be thirty one day. You can be thirty with a degree or thirty without a degree, but regardless you will be thirty.’ I’m proud to say that I will be thirty and that I’ll have my degree.”
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