As Donielle DeToy was approaching her 50th birthday, something unexpected happened.
She lost her job.
And while she thought she'd quickly find another one, it didn't quite happen that way, she said.
Instead of despairing in her misfortune after a 15-year career in politics, she looked at her newly found unemployment as an opportunity to try something new.
"Politics is not an easy genre now," she said. "I was getting a little tired of everything concerning it."
Coming from a family of teachers, she started substitute teaching in Baltimore County. When she would return home, she'd be greeted by continuing education catalogs from the Community College of Baltimore County.
"You see it when you're going up and down Rolling Road," she said. "You see the campus, but I never really thought about it."
But after substitute teaching for about six months, something clicked, she said. The Woodlawn resident wanted to become a teacher.
She never finished college because a professional opportunity came up. So in June 2015, she decided to start anew and enroll in summer classes.
She earned 44 credits in just a year, as she obtained an associate degree in teacher education at CCBC's Catonsville campus while balancing a part-time job at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's PACT: Helping Children with Special Needs program on Tudsbury Road in Milford Mill, where she works with newborns to 5-year-olds.
She never let her age stop her. That's a message she wants to share with others — that age should not be an obstacle toward what people want to do.
"I think in today's society, sometimes people who are older think education has passed them," she said. "I was a much better and more thoughtful student when I was older."
Beyond the classroom, she embraced her newfound status as a college student by becoming a student ambassador. In that role, she gives tours and represents the college in a number of activities. She was also the secretary and treasurer of the American Sign Language Club.
It's her way of showing thanks to CCBC for giving her a second chance. She said the college made it easy for her to go back to school, even at 50.
"Even if I went back to school, I didn't see myself being really successful where I could really have this kind of transformation, so I really wanted to give back," she said.
As she prepares to graduate June 4, it will be the first time she walks across the stage. Growing up in New York City, she skipped her high school graduation to go on a bicycle ride with her friends.
This time, she'll be wearing a gold tassel to designate her honors status, along with a pin representing her membership in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
She anticipates having a GPA between 3.75 and 3.8.
After graduation, she plans to attend Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she will pursue a dual master's degree in special education and elementary education. She hopes to get involved in special education, working either as a reading specialist or with children with autism.