“I knew it would not be easy,” freshman Nicole Kelly said. “It doesn’t have to be easy; it just has to be possible.”
Kelly lives in Pioneer, Ohio with her husband and three children, the oldest of which is 17 years old. In the fall of 2013 she decided to resign from her full-time position in retail management to pursue a degree in biblical studies. She commutes to classes three days a week, spending an average of four hours on the road each of those days. Kelly has to wake up at 4:15 a.m. to get to the university in time for her 8 a.m. class.
“I just can’t imagine doing anything else because this is what [God] called me to do,” Kelly said. “It’s who I am.”
Kelly became a believer and felt called into ministry ten years ago, but said she did not commit to it right away out of fear. She plans to complete her degree in four years and go on to focus on ministry through special education, specifically deaf education. In her spare time she is studying sign language.
“I’ve learned a lot more than what I knew before,” Kelly said. “[What I knew before] was on the surface because … even though I was saved 10 years ago, I only took it serious maybe two years ago. It has been a lot of new knowledge just thrust at me, and it has been fantastic”
Mark Fairchild, PhD., professor of biblical studies, has had Kelly in two 8 a.m. classes over the past two semesters. He said her attendance and dedication reflects that she is eager and interested.
“[She] impresses me tremendously,” he said. “I mean not too many of our students on campus make class as often as she does. We got students we’re asking to walk 100 yards and some of them will get up out of bed 10 minutes before class to walk 100 yards to come over here and their attendance, and I’m speaking of some students, not all, but their attendance has not been as good as hers.”
Kelly has missed only one day of class total this year. She missed because of the weather but still attempted to come in. One day, due to road conditions, her commute took three hours one way.
“I just think it really shows a lot of initiative that she is committed to do this thing and that she is coming here all the time,” John Noble, PhD., assistant professor of Bible and religion, said.
Noble has had Kelly in class once each semester this year.
Noble commutes from Marion which is approximately forty minutes one way. He has been inspired by Kelly’s example.
“Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that I have to drive, but it’s like well, Nicole is coming two hours, so I can show up,” Noble said. “Forty minute drive—no big deal. It’s just some perspective for me.”
For Kelly, this kind of perspective was given to her from her father.
“My father drove four hours one way five days a week to go to work for thirty years and never complained a day in his life,” she said. “So for me to drive half that, I won’t complain. You’ll never hear me complain.”
Kelly said she uses the long drive as a time to communicate with God.
“I was going to say I pray, but pray sounds so one-sided,” she said. “It was funny because before this my biggest complaint was ‘I don’t have time to pray.’ Now I have four hours a day to spend with him, and I love it. I love every minute of it.”
A recommendation from her pastor, university alumnus Ron Evans, was a main influence on Kelly’s choice of school. Since coming here, she has found it easy to settle in academically.
“It’s interesting because I can see the things that God has put in my heart all these years, just little things here and there, coming out through Huntington,” she said. “I always had an interest in historical time frames which I’m learning now, so the interest is now being educated. I think that’s great. [God] obviously put that in there for a reason, and it’s just all coming together now.”
Socially, Kelly has found it more challenging to connect. She guesses the main reason for this is age difference and difference in life situation. However, she still feels like she shares common ground with her classmates spiritually.
“I think that people tend to assume that because you’re older, you’re wiser on your path, but that’s not necessarily the case,” she said. “I’m just as new as some of the kids here.”
Kelly said her decision to come back to school has been an adjustment for her family, but she thinks her commitment has made a positive impact on her children.
“Before I started this, they weren’t as committed to going to church as I would have liked and now they are faithfully there every week,” she said. “My kids are leading some of the things at church, so I definitely see them growing.”
She said attending the university is a privilege.
“I’m committed and just pleased to be allowed the privilege,” Kelly said.
“It appears she’s not going to let anything stop her,” Noble said. “She is diligent and she takes care of business.”