Sisters Graduate in 40s, in Triplicate

RALEIGH — The three sisters walked together Saturday across the stage as their names were read aloud.

Jeanette Noel.

Then Delores Noel.

Then Valerie Noel.

The sisters are in their 40s and hold jobs. But Saturday saw the realization of years of work, as together they received bachelor’s degrees from the private University of Phoenix’s Raleigh campus in a jubilant ceremony that filled an exhibit hall at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Their father, Arthur, isn’t alive to watch, but they said he was a motivation for them to further their education. For the past decade, the sisters had cared for him as he lost his eyesight and a leg because of diabetes, and then suffered from cancer. He died in 2007.

"He was an inspiration," said Valerie Noel, 47, the oldest of the three.

There were other such stories of graduates overcoming difficulties to achieve a better education. Hundreds came to Raleigh from a wide part of the state to receive associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

The University of Phoenix is a for-profit institution that caters to people who do not have the time for a traditional college experience. It conducts many classes over the Internet or at night in classroom settings.

Speakers and students on Saturday celebrated the achievement of receiving a degree amid the juggle of jobs and family.

The campus pastor, Robert Odom, praised God for the accomplishments — and also prayed for those gathered to see increased salaries, eliciting a wave of smiles and amens from the crowd.

One student, Alison Drue Ramsey Turner, spoke of her three children and supportive family, and the positive effect her focus on education has also had on her children.

The campus director, Candice Borchik, said most graduates had been at work or were caring for families but still sought advanced degrees. That pursuit of a dream represents true courage, she said.

Friend led the way

The Noel sisters were introduced to the online university by a close friend, Hazel Henry.

The four of them amounted to a small study group, offering support and help when classes seemed too difficult or unmanageable. Henry walked the stage with the Noels on Saturday, earning her bachelor’s degree as well.

The four all live in Henderson in Vance County, north of Raleigh. Delores works at the state mental hospital in Butner. The others are in administrative positions with the Vance County school system. Their degrees are in human services/management.

"When you didn’t think you could go on, we could call on each other," Valerie said. "We could help each other."

And that help will go on, they said.

On Tuesday, the four will log in yet again, and start classes toward master’s degrees. (The News & Observer)

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