Retiree Gets Her Degree

Female student in the middle of other students at the Park, talking to each other

Passaic County Community College
38th Commencement – May 20, 2010

 

Vivian Clayton:
Retiree Gets Her Degree

 

Vivian Clayton (center) receives a special graduation gift from  Joan Meeh (left) coordinator of the DARC program and Joann Gonzalez-Generals, Executive Director of the Center for Student Success at PCCC.

   

 

Paterson resident, retiree, and grandmother Vivian Clayton will achieve a longtime goal May 20 when she receives her degree in the graduation ceremonies at Passaic County Community College nearly one year after she retired from her full-time job of more than three decades. “It’s a very special occasion,” Clayton said in a recent interview at PCCC. “My family is very proud.” Clayton is one of nearly 500 students graduating in PCCC’s Class of 2010. She will receive her Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree in Liberal Arts/Humanities and plans to continue her education in September at Montclair State University.


“It took me a while to get here,” laughed Clayton, who is one of the first two PCCC students to graduate through the federally funded DARC program (Disengaged Adults Returning to College) for adults who have attended college, but never completed their degree.  “I’m really glad I did it,” she said.


Started College in 1978
A native of South Carolina, Clayton graduated from W.E. Parker High School in Edgefield, SC.  She married and came to New Jersey in 1967. Her journey toward a college degree began eleven years later at local Tombrock College (now Berkeley College) where she enrolled in business programs. “I went for a year, and then kids and other family things happened, so I got off track for a while,” Clayton explained. She resumed several years later, transferring her credits to PCCC, but once again had to leave school when other responsibilities intervened.


Until her retirement in June 2009, Clayton worked as a benefits administrator for Honeywell International Inc. in Morristown, a career she had started 36 years earlier with  the Bendix Corporation which, through a series of buyouts and mergers, became Honeywell.


Over the years, she and her husband George Clayton, a chemical operator who passed away in 2003, also raised three children. Their son, the Reverend Kenneth Clayton, is pastor of St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Paterson and is pursuing a doctoral degree at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. One daughter, Tammie Clayton Reid, holds a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and is now employed as a curriculum writer for charter schools. Younger daughter Mahogany Clayton DeCando works as an administrative assistant for a major publication.


The Inspiration to Return to College
Now the grandmother of five, Clayton also volunteers three days a week, at St. Luke’s Church where she has started a special ministry for single mothers. “That’s what really inspired me to complete my degree,” she explained. “I was encouraging these women to get their education, but I hadn’t finished my own. I decided I should lead by example.”


Admitting she was nervous and afraid of failing, Clayton summoned her courage, called PCCC, and was thrilled to learn she was only five credits short of what she needed to earn her degree. The timing of her call also coincided with PCCC’s award of the DARC grant. “I’m very appreciative,” said Clayton, who commended the program administrators at the College for helping her. “It’s hard to leave your comfort zone when you’re not 18 anymore,” she added. “They really guided me and helped me through.”


At first, Clayton was worried about being so much older than the other students, but that soon changed. “I was so surprised,” she said. “The younger students were very friendly and accepting. Some of them even came to me for help.”  Clayton especially enjoyed her psychology courses with Professor Ed Moseley and decided to pursue that field to become a counselor, an ambition born of her work with single mothers’ group.


She also came to realize some of the advantages of returning to college as a retiree. “I didn’t have to balance school with my work schedule, and I have a lot more time to study,” she said.  A gracious woman who chooses her words thoughtfully, Clayton also recognizes the role her life experience plays in her studies. “A younger person may look at psychology as telling other people what they need to do. Now that I’m older, I know better how to listen to what people are saying, and that’s very important for a counselor.”


That said, Clayton still has some advice for other adults who have not completed their education. “It’s never too late, and you’re never too old to learn. Do it. And if you fail the first time, do it again.”