Kim Sullivan is one of the members of the Class of 2014 who will be celebrating their graduation from Manchester Community College Thursday, May 29. The college’s 50th Commencement Exercises will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Bicentennial Band Shell on the campus lawn.
Sullivan will receive her associate in science degree in business administration. After she graduates, she plans to transfer to Central Connecticut State University for a bachelor’s degree.
Hers wasn’t specifically the school of hard knocks before coming to MCC, but her journey to her degree is a storied one – a story that includes a scholarship, a bicycle and a layoff before she finally found her stride.
She noted that it has taken most of her life so far to learn a most important lesson. “I have discovered that life is about learning, through education and self-discovery,” she said. “A college education has rewarded me with countless opportunities for discovery and invaluable knowledge and wisdom, which otherwise I would’ve never had.”
With only a high-school education, but years of experience as a full-time mother, Sullivan knew she had a gift for numbers. But in 1993, recently divorced with children who were still dependent on her, she was hard pressed to find the means to continue with college. “I did find a way to connect with MCC through a program called ‘Look Forward,’ a 25-week course in computer and employability skills training coordinated by Capital Community College and the counseling center at the Hartford College for Women,” she recalled.
A grant from the State Department of Education funded the program, which provided support and computer training for widowed, divorced and separated women who were uncertain about their futures.
After graduating from that program, she was awarded a full scholarship to MCC and enrolled in three classes in the spring of 1994. “I completed the semester with a 4.0 GPA and just loved being back in the classroom environment,” she said.
But the scholarship was just for the one term, so without additional funding, Sullivan returned to working in the food-service industry so she could support her children.
Many years went by before she would try again. She knocked around from job to job and eventually landed a contract position with the Connecticut Department of Labor as a career-services coordinator. “That job found me,” she explained. “I was going to their offices as a client looking for employment, and at the time I did not have a car, so I commuted there daily on a bicycle. They got to know me as ‘the lady on the bicycle’ and when the job opened up, they said, get the lady with the bike, it’s perfect for her.”
She did that job for four years and then 2008 hit.
Sullivan was laid off from her job as so many were during the recession. That ended up being her ticket back to college. She still did not have a car, so she biked to MCC, walked or took a bus. “I was determined to get my college degree after putting it off for so many years,” she said. “I never missed a class.”
Her credits from her first semester so many years before were still good, and she has been able to pay for the rest of her MCC education through a combination of scholarships from the MCC Foundation and federal financial aid. With work assignments in the bookstore, the college’s Tower Café, and the Continuing Education division, she has earned her way while studying full time.
Her work-study supervisors give her plenty of credit for a job well done. “She has been a hard-working employee and outstanding student at the same time,” said Stephen Campiglio, Continuing Education program associate. “She was quickly promoted from the desk coverage role to that of motorcycle program assistant, a position she has held for two years running, and which requires proficient attention to detail and excellent organizational, computer and customer-service skills, as well as the ability to work independently. I will miss her contribution to Continuing Education and know that she will succeed in her career and life paths.”
In addition, to recognize her academic success and all around service to MCC, Sullivan was selected by her business and accounting professors as the 2014 recipient of the Fred A. Ramey, Jr. Award. She will receive her award at tonight’s MCC Academic Awards Ceremony.
The first in her family to attend college, she added that it was a major step to return after so long. “During that lapse of so many years, I was unable to commit to anything,” she said. “I was foundering through life with no direction, until I came to MCC.” She credits her inspiration and determination to succeed to everyone she has connected with in the campus community – faculty, staff and fellow students, “many of which have become like family.”
She also credits her success to her late friend, high-school classmate and colleague, Valerie Scott, who served on the MCC staff as a graphic designer until she recently passed away. “Val was my biggest cheerleader,” Sullivan said. “She was always there to support me and remind me I could do it. She isn’t here to see my graduate, but I know she’s with me in spirit.”