As the Class of 2022 prepares for Commencement, May 6–7, The College Today will highlight how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what the future holds.
When you’re the youngest of 11 children, it’s hard to be the first – at anything. But, when she graduates from the College of Charleston’s Professional Studies Program, Mary “Pearl” Gibbs will finally claim her place as the first of her siblings to earn a bachelor’s degree. It’s something she knows would make her parents proud. “My parents’ goal was to make sure that none of their children would work on a slave farm as they did for many years,” says Gibbs, who grew up in a small town in Alabama. “When one of the children finished the 12th grade, they were immediately put on a bus and sent north to work. When the next one finished high school, then the person living in the North would send back home for that person. This cycle went on for all of us.” And once Gibbs had left home and tasted a little freedom, she didn’t look back. “My parents’ wish for me was to go to college. Being young and foolish, I did not want to return to Alabama for college, so I stayed up North and worked,” says the 75-year-old, who started her career as a city letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and endured snow, sleet and hail for 36 years as she worked her way up the ranks to Postmaster. “While working, it was always in my mind to go to college, and I was able to receive my associate degree in 1980. I wanted to continue with my education, but each move into a higher position in the Postal Service also came with many responsibilities with 24/7 jobs.” Still, Gibbs never forgot her parents’ wish. “Through the years I regretted disappointing my parents for not attending college,” she says. “When I retired, I did nothing for a year and decided it was time for me to get started in fulfilling my dream.” That’s when she enrolled in what was then the School of Professional Studies located at the College’s North Campus. Things didn’t go so well: She received a D in her first class, which was with Godfrey Gibbison, the school’s former dean. “To this day, I am so thankful to him for giving me that D, because I really had deserved an F,” says Gibbs, adding that the D also landed her in the Learning Strategies course, designed to teach students how to study – something she appreciated since “it had been 35 years since I had set foot into a classroom. Through suggestions and advice, I started with the Bachelor of Professional Studies Program.” The B.P.S. program, now housed in the School of Business, turned out to be the perfect place for Gibbs. “Attending the College of Charleston has been such a wonderful experience for me,” she says, adding that the program’s instructors “provide flexibility that offers students the opportunity to balance their family, school, and work life with little or no stress. “I always tell older adults about the College of Charleston, letting them know that the staff will make them feel comfortable,” continues Gibbs, “and the College provides an atmosphere conducive for older individuals to learn easily.” Of course, she warns, learning doesn’t get easier with age. “My advice to younger students is to complete your education while you are young. Start, and don’t stop until you have your Ph.D., because when you get older, learning becomes harder,” says Gibbs. “Stay focused and put the work in to excel as high as possible.” For her part, Gibbs plans to keep on putting in the work and going higher in her education after graduation – this time through The Citadel’s Master of Business Administration program. “Before I start my graduate degree, I want to have a graduation party, as I will not be attending the graduation ceremony because of medical reasons,” she says, explaining that she was diagnosed with a serious medical condition earlier this year and has decided not to go through surgery or chemotherapy/radiation. “A party means so much to me, so I am saving up my money: I want to have a nice sit-down luncheon in a room decorated with College of Charleston colors, and be surrounded by some of my wonderful CofC professors and my family and friends.”