As a May graduate of Forsyth Technical Community College with a degree in Early Childhood Education, Mary Coleman is not at all shy about telling you her story, especially her age. At 77 years old, she is the oldest graduate in the history of Forsyth Tech.
And that’s just the beginning of her story.
Coleman had nine children, but then divorced. “I wanted to be a role model for my children and go back to school,” Coleman said. “I had been a homeroom mom in my children’s schools and their teachers told me I had the skills to do it and they encouraged me.”
She took her high school equivalency test and decided to continue in school. Despite many challenges, Coleman received her associate in nursing degree from University of Akron in Ohio and then moved her children to Maryland and received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She received the Humanitarian Award at Howard University and she is the first in her family to get a college degree.
Joining the Army Reserves as a registered nurse, she became a 2nd Lieutenant and worked at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and then Kimbrough Hospital, in Fort Meade, Maryland. For 25 years, she worked in all areas of nursing from the Emergency Department to the Intensive Care Unit, becoming a Nursing Supervisor. In the meantime, she remarried and had three more children, having her last child at 45 years old.
When Coleman was 59 years old, she was driving to work and was hit by a drunk driver. She sustained multiple injuries and spent three months in the hospital. When the doctors said they had done all they could do, Coleman had faith there was more left for her to do. Selling her house in Maryland and all her possessions, she moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter who was attending Winston-Salem State University.
Coleman was still having a difficult time walking even with a cane. Fortunately, she found a chiropractor who helped her improve her walking and she learned to walk without a cane.
One day, as she was walking through the neighborhood, she saw children playing at a day care center. Thinking she would love to work with children, she went in and applied for a job. Because of her nursing experience, she was hired and the day care center increased their ranking because she was a register nurse. However, she soon found out she needed further qualifications to work in the day care.
She started at Forsyth Tech and graduated with honors.
Coleman believes strongly in education and encouraged all her children to pursue their college degrees. All have received bachelor’s degrees, some master’s degrees, and one has his/her doctorate. Now, with her Associates in Early Childhood Education, Coleman continues to be an example for her 35 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.