Linda Adams’ father made his pitch at the dinner table: I’ll buy you a 1966 Ford Mustang. Any color. Any style. All that chrome. Imagine the envy.
All Linda had to do was call off her impending wedding to a boy from nearby Arthurdale and promise to go to college instead.
But Linda was 18 and in love. No amount of bargaining, no amount of impassioned pleading, was going to change that. She gently told her father no, and he obediently walked her down the aisle that summer. When the minister asked, “Who gives this woman to this man?” he stumbled over the words.
“Her mother and I do.”
Linda didn’t understand it then. But she gets it now, 44 years later, when she’s on the brink of fulfilling her father’s dream, donning a different kind of gown and graduating from West Virginia University with a Regents bachelor of arts degree with an emphasis in communication studies.
“To my father,” Linda says, “education was the answer to everything.”
He was a coal miner with a sixth-grade education, who wanted his three children to make more of their lives than he was able to make of his. It’s why he pushed them toward college, why he tried to bribe Linda with a sports car even though he could barely afford the payment.
When her father gave her away in 1966, he thought he was giving away her chance at a future, too.
Tuition assistance makes it possible
As her father had feared, Linda’s marriage to the boy from Arthurdale ended 10 years after it began. So she was a divorced mother of two young boys, living at home with her parents and working a desk job at a travel agency when the phone rang.
On the other end was a gentleman from Harrison County looking to buy plane tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, where WVU would play Notre Dame.
A few days later he called back, just to talk.
Then he did it again.
Eventually, he convinced Linda to meet him for a cup of coffee. Coffee turned into dinner, which turned into dancing, which turned into a lifetime.
Linda and Page Adams were married in 1989. But this marriage was different. This time, her father had no trouble giving her away. “You’ll never be lonely again,” he told her.
Less than a year later, her father died. He never knew that Linda, who had taken a job as a receptionist at WVU, was eligible for tuition assistance. He never got to encourage her to take advantage of the program and get the education he always wanted her to have. It was Page who ended up playing that role and telling his wife: “Go!”
Linda did, taking the three credits per semester that she was eligible for as an employee.
It wasn’t easy. At that rate, it would take nearly 20 years to graduate.
And it had already been nearly a quarter-century since she’d graduated from high school, since she’d sat in a classroom or written a paper or taken an exam. Page, a fifth-grade teacher, became her copy editor, calculator and dictionary, holding her hand through homework and research papers. Her professors and academic advisors became her counselors and cheerleaders, leading her through the complicated world of picking classes and adding up credits. And 18-year-old college students became her peers and friends.
They asked to borrow her notes when they missed class, and she scolded them about the importance of attending lectures. They changed her tire when one went flat, and she shared her extra pencils and Scantrons on exam days.
It was their encouragement and compassion that helped her to recover after a car accident in 2004 threatened to end her college career, and after Page’s sudden death in 2009 threatened to end it again.
“I didn’t think I could go on,” Linda says. “What was the point? I couldn’t even see a point to getting up in the morning.”
There was no one to find the typos in her papers, no one to accompany her on trips to Europe, no to tell her she could do it when she was convinced she couldn’t.
And she might not have, if not for an obligation that she reimburse the University for her classes if she couldn’t complete them. Linda didn’t have the money.
So she reluctantly returned to school, and realized that graduation was closer than she thought. She needed only 12 more credits.
That fall, she signed up for her three free credits, and paid for nine more with money from her husband’s life insurance policy.
The semester, packed with her full-time job as a program assistant in Career Services and a full load of classes, was both painful and therapeutic. She was still learning to live without her husband, to live alone, but her job kept her motivated, and her classes kept her moving toward that target her father had drawn all those years ago.
A cap and gown
Linda is 62 now. Her mother is 83. For months, she’s been worried that, like her late husband, she wouldn’t see her daughter graduate from college, would never see her in a cap and gown. On a trip to Charleston in October, Linda finally spoke the words her mother had been waiting to hear: “I have enough credits.”
But after 18 years of college, her mother was understandably skeptical.
“Am I going to live to see it?” she asked.
“If you live to December,” Linda told her.
Her mother smiled.
“I can’t buy you a Mustang,” she told her daughter, “but he would if he were here.”
Linda smiled, too. She was certain her father would.
Even if he could barely afford to make the payment.
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