By Jannette J. Witmyer,
Special to the AFRO
Age is nothing but a number for sisters Joyce Thomas and Charlene Knight, two of the proudest members of the 2023 graduating class for Baltimore City Community College (BCCC).
The two stood tall inside of the Lyric Performing Arts Center on May 13, as they took part in the commencement ceremony. Thomas and Knight each earned a Certificate in Information Technology Basic Skills, at 79 years-of-age and 70 years-of-age, respectively.
Thomas, who holds an Ed.D. from the University of Miami, said she had not planned on earning the BCCC certificate — she only intended to take one class to improve her computer skills, nothing more. Then, one day a computer lab tutorial session led to an unexpected side-trip to an academic advisor. That conversation changed everything.
Initially, the advisor offered her a pathway to earning a degree.
“‘Sir, I appreciate your help very, very much– but I have enough degrees. I don’t need any more,’” Thomas recalls responding. “Then he said the magic word.”
“He said, ‘Well, I can offer you something else. How would you like to graduate next year, May 13, with an Information Technology Basic Skills Certificate?’”
The one word that caught Thomas’ attention was “graduate.”
“I asked, ‘You mean graduate– like walking across the stage?’ To which he said, ‘Yes.’”
Thomas’ enthusiasm about graduating was not for herself.
Instead, she asked if she could bring a younger sister to her next meeting with the advisor about the certificate program. She couldn’t shake the idea of a “Sister Act 1 and 2” — she wanted to walk across the stage and graduate with her sibling.
A different path to intersecting interests
Born and raised in Baltimore 10 years apart, Thomas and Knight were the second and fourth of eight children of Willie and Wilhelmina Weeks. The two took vastly different academic paths before coming together for this shared experience.
Upon graduating from Frederick Douglass Senior High School, the elder sister earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health and Physical Education at what was then Morgan State College, now Morgan State University. The summer of her graduation, Thomas accepted a teaching position in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, although she knew no one living in the territory. She taught there, married, continued her education and immersed herself in the Virgin Island community for more than 40 years. Her dedication to learning and her adventurous spirit are evident in all that she accomplished during that time.
After moving to St. Thomas without knowing anyone, Thomas became a member of the Alpha Chi Chapter of Eta Phi Beta Sorority, which is a business and professional women’s sorority. She also later joined the St. Thomas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
“Both of those organizations became my family away from home. Upon returning to Baltimore, I am now a member of the Baltimore County Alumnae Chapter (BCAC) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Eta Phi Beta Sorority’s Epsilon Epsilon Chapter.”
Thomas spent summers flying to various locations to extend her studies — staying true to her passion as a lifelong learner. She earned a master’s in counseling at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, a master’s degree in educational administration at New York University and an Ed.D. at the University of Miami. Thomas returned to live in Baltimore only after the passing of her husband.
As a great-grandmother of five, she was ecstatic to be able to walk across the stage.
Unlike her older sister, when Knight graduated from high school, she had her heart set on employment– not more school.
While attending Eastern Senior High School, she participated in the college prep curriculum and received a basic introduction to computers. When she graduated, she put her knowledge to making a living.
“I worked in
] private industry for about two years. Then, I got married and had my son,” she explained. “Not too long after, I went to work for Baltimore City government as an office administrator and decided that would be my career path.”
Knight told the AFRO how Baltimore City Community College was there for her when she began to look for pathways to improve herself years ago.
“I began preparing myself to move up and was able to enroll at BCCC as a city employee– tuition-free– in 1976,” said Knight. She was employed by Baltimore City for a total of 12 years.
However, she found the challenges of being a young mother with two small children, a husband and the full-time Baltimore City job to be overwhelming.
Knight moved on to a position with the U.S. Postal Service, where she was employed for 23 years. Still, she felt a bit of a void because she had not returned to school to finish what she started.
Today, as a great-grandmother of five, she is ecstatic that she was able to walk across the stage and graduate with her certificate.
Now that the sisters have earned their certificates, the question is “what’s next?”
Thomas is quick to note that while she has been happily retired for more than 20 years, she’s looking forward to putting the new skills she learned at BCCC to good use.
“We are both members of the Dorie Miller Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary 5367, here in the state of Maryland,” said Thomas, of the non-profit organization made up of veterans and their families. “We’ll be able to help some of our other members who may be having issues with their computer skills or with the computer, in general. In other words,
] be an aide to anyone, especially seniors!”
Baltimore City Community College is providing opportunities to address the needs of students during challenging economic times, by offering free tuition, fees and books to eligible students for the summer 2023 semester.
For additional information about this and other available programs, visit https://www.bccc.edu/bccc.