Graduate Salute 2021 Student Stories
BROOKLYN, NY – One day, retiree Ruth Thomas was sitting at home watching TV and a commercial aired about Kingsborough Community College (KCC) offering older adults a great opportunity to attend college tuition free. Her daughter turned to her and suggested that she sign up. So, Ruth did in the fall of 2018. Her first class in KCC’s My Turn program was math. After receiving an A grade in the class, she was off and running. Ruth matriculated by the summer and declared a major in Early Childhood Education. After taking her first psychology class, she changed her major to mental health and human services with a concentration in domestic violence counseling. Today, the 66-year-old grandmother of two is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and was named the salutatorian of KCC’s Class of 2021.
“A degree was something I didn’t get before when I was in school. It was always a personal accomplishment that I wanted to pursue,” explained Ruth, a native of Brooklyn. “I always felt that I was the smart kid who didn’t make the right choices at certain times. So now was the right time for me to do this. I had my family; I’m financially secure. I wanted to go back and get something that meant so much to me, and so I’m doing it.”
Now retired 14 years from the NYC Department of Correction, Ruth’s goal is to become a “helping professional” in the mental health field. “I want to find that balance between mental health and domestic violence. You need to help the abuser and the victim — understand the mindset of both. If you help one and don’t help the other the cycle continues,” Ruth said.
Interest in helping others is a trait Ruth inherited from her father, a kind soul who couldn’t see any being (man or animal) go hungry or homeless, and a product of her law enforcement background, in which she encouraged inmates to take advantage of education and medical programs during her career as an officer. Continuing her education to senior college is next for Ruth as she paces herself with family obligations.
“My parents raised me to believe that getting an education and working hard is the foundation to achieving a successful life,” she said.
Ruth’s family migrated to New York from the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1950s. She has a strong cheerleading squad of college graduates behind her that include a daughter and a granddaughter, who have made her feel good about her academic accomplishments. “I get the ‘I knew you could do it and ‘I’m proud of you.’ That feels good. And when your (adult) kids tell their friends, ‘My mom got a 4.0,’ … I got some bragging rights.”