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Stacey McCreary first enrolled at Arizona State University in 1993 as a self-described “very young” 18-year-old. And while she said she had a lot of fun, by the end of her first year she was leaving ASU to return to her parents’ home with advice from the university to pursue classes at a community college and then return.
With national averages of about 6 out of 10 students who start college never reaching graduation, her story was like many others. Or at least it was for two decades, until Stacey made the decision to face what she had left behind and return to ASU — this time alongside her eldest son, Micah McCreary. Stacey and Micah are both students in the Department of English at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“It's been quite a journey,” Stacey said. “I did some community college for a while (after leaving ASU) and then I met my husband and got married and we got pregnant right away and then I was mom (to four children) for a long time.”
In the early 2000s, Stacey began taking online courses through Rio Salado Community College, slowly working her way to an associate degree, which she received in 2015. After deciding to return to ASU to pursue her bachelor’s degree, she said she met with Admission Services who shared that she could apply for an academic renewal which would allow her to start fresh.
“It was amazing to not be held accountable for who I was when I was 18 as much anymore. (The grades) are always there and I know that I failed, but it proved to me that I wasn't a failure, that I could do this and that I belong here, even though I'm oftentimes the oldest in the classroom,” she said.
Micah said he considered the initial possibility of sharing a class with his mom interesting and has been proud of Stacey’s return to academia.
“There's no age limit on this school,” Micah said. “I feel like a lot of people assume that there might be some sort of a stigma, but I don't think that there is. I think that it's an excellent opportunity for anyone at any stage to come back and get a higher education. And I think that my mom has exemplified that.”
Micah’s journey at ASU has been quite different from his mother’s, yet both demonstrate the opportunities that can be seized upon at the university.
He enrolled at a private university but he said about halfway through his freshman year he missed the rigor he had become accustomed to at his high school charter.
“I decided to make a switch and get into Barrett, The Honors College at ASU and started to study English literature instead of political science, which I was studying at the time,” he said. Shortly after the switch, Micah began adding additional study areas, some by accident.
“My English adviser at the time told me I could take intensive language classes for two years worth of language study in one year. I took French 110 and 210 and finished them intensively and accidentally fell head over heels in love with French.”
He decided to add French as a major, then a Chinese minor — but he still didn’t stop there.
Because of his love of international affairs and his aspiration to pursue a law degree, Micah also added an international studies certificate and a political science degree.
“This school offers opportunities to anyone. There is something out there for everyone here, whether that be a STEM field, whether that be a liberal arts field or whatever you want to move into,” he said. “I think that there are so many resources and there's so much desire on the part of the staff and the teachers to really help students, whether that be financially, academically or all of the above.”
While Micah and Stacey are able to share Department of English-focused recommendations together, the experience of studying at The College extends to additional members of the McCreary family: Stacey’s other son, Liam, is a freshman studying biochemistry, and Micah’s wife, Julianna, studies French.
Being able to set an example and path for others in their family was important to both Micah and Stacey. Micah said their shared experience helps to show his younger sisters that there is nothing holding them back, even in the face of criticisms or the opinions of others.
“I think that my mom going out and — I think that me as well, but to a much lesser extent — pursuing something devotedly and achieving a lot has shown them that nothing is limiting them. There is nothing real that limits them other than other people’s constructed opinions,” he said. “I think that those hold a lot less weight in their minds now that they've seen my mom go out and conquer the world.”
Beyond showing her children that you should never give up, Stacey said returning to school to earn her bachelor’s degree (and in a year, master’s degree through The College’s 4+1 program), was a milestone she needed to accomplish for herself.
“My knee-jerk response is it was for the kids, but really I think it was for me to get my confidence back and to feel like I have really worked for that piece of paper, that degree, and that I deserve it because I've worked for it,” she said. “And prove to myself that just because you fail once doesn't mean you don't get back up and try again.”