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5/10/2018 - Jackson, Miss.

Sometimes, life gets in the way. There are circumstances beyond our control and family commitments take priority over personal goals. This is what happened to Joanne Weith when she attended Itawamba Community College the first time, about 20 years ago.

After her mother passed away suddenly, Weith took care of her father and soon became a newlywed herself. With these additional responsibilities, she set her books aside.

On Saturday, Weith will have the opportunity to do something she could not have imagined possible back then, all thanks to an email she received unexpectedly a few months ago. Weith will receive her diploma. Making the occasion even more special, she will receive the diploma alongside her son, Joshua Sisk, who is also graduating from Itawamba Community College.

"I was beyond blessed to have received that email from Emily regarding this opportunity," said Weith. "I regretted many times not being able to finish my degree and am so excited to be receiving it this May, right after I turn 50."

The email that started the mother of two down the path that leads to the graduation stage this weekend came from Emily Tucker, a Complete 2 Compete (C2C) counselor for Itawamba Community College. Complete 2 Compete is a statewide program focused on encouraging Mississippi adults who have completed some college, but no degree, to return to college and complete the requirements necessary to earn their degrees.

In the email, Tucker provided her contact information and stated she would like to talk to Weith about how close she was to earning her degree. With encouragement and support from her husband and both of her sons, Weith called the C2C counselor back.

The Mooreville resident returned to the classroom, admittedly with a few butterflies, but soon found that the encouragement from her advisors, instructors and even classmates made her feel at home. In fact, she served as an inspiration to her fellow students. She also motivated her son, who in turn helped her refresh her algebra skills as she returned to the classroom while continuing to work full-time.

"He has loved every minute of being in school with his mom and has helped me many times understanding some class material," said Weith. "He has told his friends with pride that he will be graduating with his mom. As for me and my husband, we couldn't be any prouder of him."

A licensed child care director, Weith's new degree will go in her file alongside her director's license. While doors to new opportunities may await her upon receiving her degree, she finds greater intrinsic value in earning her degree.

"For me to finish college was to honor my deceased parents' memory," said Weith. "They raised me to always do my best to finish what I started."

A member of Phi Theta Kappa, Sisk will graduate with honors, taking another step toward his goal of becoming an engineer. This fall, he will continue his education at Mississippi State University, where he will major in Industrial Technology.

Sisk said earning his degree was important to him "because it helps me do what I love to do!"

Dr. Casey Turnage, Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, said that Weith's story exemplifies what the Complete 2 Compete initiative is all about.

"I am so proud of Joanne Weith and the thousands of other Mississippians who are exploring the opportunities provided through the Complete 2 Compete program," said Dr. Turnage. "They are proving that it is possible to finish what you started and achieve your goals!"

"The Complete 2 Compete program was designed to help former students like Joanne," said Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board. "And the fact that she will graduate on the same day as her son makes it even more special. Congratulations to everyone that helped Joanne earn her degree."

Like many of the C2C graduates, Weith is grateful for those opportunities.

"I want to thank the Complete 2 Compete program for giving me this opportunity," said Weith. "I honestly would not have finished my education without it."

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The mission of the Mississippi Community College Board is to advance the community college system through coordination, support, leadership, and advocacy.

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