Obstacles overcome, two celebrate second chances at college education


Edith Altice and Kelly Hopkins are grateful for second chances.

On Tuesday evening, the valedictorians donned their blue and white robes and marched to "Pomp and Circumstance" for a second try at their commencement ceremony at Anne Arundel Community College.

The first ceremony, held May 25, was cut short by thunderstorms on a day when weather forecasters had predicted a 30 percent chance of rain.

But this week, in the safety of the school's cafeteria, the two women told 101 of their classmates, their friends and their families why they were thankful for their second chances at education.

"My view of the world has changed from limited to unlimited," said Ms. Altice, who was raised in Dillsburg, a small farming and milling community south of Harrisburg, Pa. "There is no limit to what I can do."

Ms. Altice, the youngest of seven children, said her father died when she was 4, leaving her mother "the sole provider of us all. Survival was more of a priority in life."

When she graduated from high school in 1984 at age 17, she said, she threw her clothes into a rickety 1974 Ford Mustang and headed down a dusty road out of Dillsburg and into Annapolis.

Her heart was full of ambition to climb the corporate ladder, and her head was filled with a simple dream: to own her own home.

"I just really wanted a fresh start," Ms. Altice, 28, said in an interview.

She was a waitress for a restaurant in Annapolis Mall, a secretary for an advertising firm, a saleswoman at a home improvement store, a real estate agent. At age 23, she bought a condominium. But after nine years of working, she decided a job was not enough.

"There was nowhere to go," she said. "There was no ladder to climb. And that's all I could qualify for without a degree."

So, in the fall of 1993, about a year after her mother died in a car wreck, she enrolled in the community college.

Two years later, she has a 4.0 average, a degree in general studies with a concentration in criminal justice and is headed for the University of Baltimore to study jurisprudence.

Kelly Hopkins' second chance in education began in the fall of 1992. A single mother and high school dropout at age 17, she started her adult life cleaning horse stalls in Ohio.

"At 17, you could not have told me I'd be graduating from college," she said. "I was a loser."

When she moved to St. Simon's Island, Ga., to be with her family, she said, she worked "no less than 80, sometimes 105 hours a week" at four jobs.

She said she didn't think she would ever see the inside of a school again when she moved to Annapolis in 1990.

"It took me six long years to get up the courage to apply" to college, she told guests at the school Tuesday night. "I was terrified of going to college."

With the help of a friend who helped pay for school and baby-sat her 9-year-old daughter, Andrea, Ms. Hopkins was able to afford the school's radiologic technology courses.

Three years later, she is the first student in the allied health division's 23-year history to become the college's valedictorian. Her achievements, she said, have been more than academic.

"It's taken me so long to be happy with myself and my life," the 26-year-old graduate said. "I hated myself through elementary school. I hated myself through high school. It took a very long time to get me to believe in myself."

Ms. Hopkins got a part-time job as an X-ray technician at St. Agnes Medical Center.

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