A graduation day 30 years in the making

By Heather Greene | The Sand Mountain Reporter

Graduation is a day most college students anticipate for four years, but for Jana Monday, it was a 30-year wait.

In the fall of 1980, at age 17, Monday enrolled as a political science major at Jacksonville State University. However, she openly admits that her immaturity and “self-destructive” behavior led to academic problems. During her third year of college, Monday’s mother passed away suddenly, after which she turned to a life of partying as a “means to numb the pain.” Five years after enrolling, she dropped out of college and returned home to Albertville.

After leaving school, Monday enjoyed a successful career in business development and marketing – first in banking, and then with the civil engineering firm CDG Engineers and Assocates for the past 14 years. At home, she and her husband of 30 years, Mike, have one child – her stepson, Tyler, an Auburn graduate who married JSU alumna, Jennifer Young Monday.

But despite her happy home and work life, Monday didn’t feel complete.

“I just always wanted to finish my degree,” she said. “I felt like something was missing.”

Over the years, Monday kept in touch with JSU by returning to football games with the lifelong friends she made in Alpha Xi Delta in the 1980s. While perusing the JSU website in 2016, she stumbled upon the Integrated Studies degree and quickly met with the head of that department, Dr. Gordon Harvey, to see if it could be a pathway to her completing her degree.

“In about 10 minutes, he told me that I could be done in eight or nine classes,” Monday said. “I melted into a puddle in his office. I cried like a baby. It was some of the best news I had ever heard.”

After receiving this news, Monday resolved to finish within a year. True to her word, she enrolled in a May term class the following month. All of her classes were online, which accommodated her work schedule, and her company even had a tuition reimbursement program to cover her cost of study. What Monday put off for 30 years turned out to be attainable.

“I found it to be very doable, and I found the university to be very user-friendly, helpful and encouraging to a returning student,” said Monday, regarding her process of transitioning back to JSU. “The fact that I was able to count most of my credits after 30 years was amazing.”

Dr. Gordon Harvey said Monday’s experience is fairly common.

“You’d be amazed how many non-traditional students show up in our office and think they are the only person who left early or who decide to come back to complete,” Harvey said. “This is very common. Sometimes life and career get in the way of completing. They are equally amazed when I tell them that there are so many former Gamecocks just like them who want that diploma for career or for pride. Integrated Studies has been a way for them to complete their degree without a great deal of extra time.”

For anyone wishing to return to JSU to complete a degree, he or she simply needs to submit the Update Student Status form on the JSU Admission’s website, jsu.edu/apply. There is no application fee, and once a student has been updated through Admissions, the student should contact his or her department of choice to be assigned an advisor. If close to graduating, a student can go ahead and set up an appointment with his or her certification advisor.

To anyone hesitating on returning to finish, Harvey encouraged, “Do it. You’re never too old. You’ve not been away too long. Some of the best students I’ve taught are those who come back after some time away. They are engaged, and they have a lifetime of experiences and questions. College is for everyone at any stage of their lives. Ask questions; explore your options. You’d be surprised what we have to offer and what you can contribute to university life.”

This spring, Monday was among the 727 graduates from JSU.

“It was a dream come true,” she said. “It was one of the happiest days of my life.”

To find out how you can begin your JSU journey, please visit jsu.edu.

Photo: Jana Monday pictured with her husband, Mike, and son and daughter-in-law, Tyler and Jennifer Young Monday.