The 1,797 students applying for graduation this year have all completed their requirements at their own pace, many of them overcoming a vast array of obstacles to get to where they are today. For one in particular, conquering her adversity has been a long time coming.
Which makes her walk across the stage to get her Medical Office Assistant certificate that much more satisfying.
Lynoa McKnight took her first class at Washtenaw Community College in 1989, and her path to graduation has been fraught with pitfalls.
“It was a long road, but I’m finally completing,” McKnight said. “I’ll just be glad when the day comes.”
The daughter of Diana McKnight-Morton, the vice chair of WCC’s Board of Trustees, McKnight had been dabbling in communications at Washtenaw before leaving the school for the workforce in 1990. She worked at Bally Total Fitness in Ann Arbor until her son was born in 1994.
With a sick father, suffering from diabetes, and a new son struggling with autism, McKnight felt she had too much responsibility to her family – so her return to WCC would have to wait.
“I had lost interest and focus,” McKnight said. “I was still young, and I became discouraged. She (her mother) said ‘We need to get you a better job.’”
Despite health problems in her family and a busy schedule starting at TCF Bank in 1999, McKnight had always been encouraged by her mother that WCC was the place for her.
“She’s been a real trooper,” McKnight-Morton said. “She’s dedicated and very conscientious about getting her work done. She’s had some roadblocks, but she’s persevered through.”
After losing her job to downsizing at TCF in 2008, McKnight spent the next three years unemployed. As she began to find herself again, her time off soon gave way to a return to WCC, where she began studying to become a medical assistant.
“I just said ‘This would be a great opportunity to go back to school,’” McKnight said. “The break really helped me realize that I should go there. My mom pushed me to look at other opportunities in different fields.”
Inspired by the very health concerns in her family that had once prevented her from continuing her education two decades earlier, McKnight chose to study medicine. And when she started anew at Washtenaw, her mother begged her to finish before McKnight-Morton’s tenure on the board concluded.
But the trustee wasn’t alone in the push for her daughter’s academic success. Dean of Student Life, Arnett Chisholm, a counselor when McKnight began in 1989, worked with her throughout her academic career.
Chisholm was a family friend who came highly recommended, and right away he identified an issue and admonished McKnight to slow down.
With a pattern of high level success in some of her classes and low scores in others, Chisholm recommended a more deliberate pace.
“This repeat cycle told me that she’s not a bad student. She always had the intention to finish her degree,” Chisholm said. “We paced a study schedule and got her with instructors that I felt were best for her learning style. Seeing her success gave her the confidence to continue.”
Over the past few years, McKnight and Chisholm have found success in their efforts. Wary of school at first, McKnight is now proud to say that her certificate is now within grasp.
“I was kinda scared,” McKnight said. “I’ve had a hard time learning, and I was psyching myself out worrying if I could do it, who would watch my son. But then I just buckled myself down. I did this for myself, but I really did it for (her mother) and Arnett.”
She knows she owes them, too.
“If I needed anything,” she said, “they had it for me.”
And so did Washtenaw Community College.