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English graduate crosses the finish line to earn degree she started 25 years ago

lee ann gibson

Lee Ann Gibson

By Julia Duvall

Western Carolina University student Lee Ann Gibson will cross the finish line to earn her degree she started more than 25 years ago during WCU’s fall commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 16. 

Gibson, a Jackson County native, had 15 credit hours remaining to finish her bachelor’s degree in English, but life and responsibilities got in the way. 

That is, until she lost her brother due to COVID-19 and realized she needed to seize every opportunity she could. 

“After losing my brother, I decided I needed to finish my degree, so I checked Western’s web page and saw the Finish Line program,” Gibson said. “I filled out the information and it all started from there.” 

Finish Line is a degree completion program for students who did not finish their bachelor’s degrees, at WCU or another institution. 

“From the very moment I applied to WCU, the staff and advisers in Finish Line were so helpful. I know I had quite the transcript to dig through, but they made everything so easy,” Gibson said. “I had just returned to the workforce and so adding school on top of that was a lot, but my professors and advisers were so supportive of my decision.” 

In addition to the Finish Line advisers, Gibson credited Brian Gastle, an English professor who served as her senior adviser, for guiding her through getting the courses she needed and being very supportive while she juggled life, work and school. 

“Lee Ann has overcome monumental hurdles (both personal and academic) to complete her degree,” Gastle said. “It can be especially difficult for someone to return to school after years away and to be taking classes with traditional students, but in these final semesters in which she completed her degree she remained driven, focused and determined.” 

“I am so thankful for the flexibility WCU gave me,” Gibson said. “I was able to do a hybrid format, with some online classes and some in-person, which allowed me to continue working while finishing my degree. I had no idea what working full-time and going back to school would be like. It was hard, but I made it through with the help of the amazing faculty and staff at WCU.” 

Gibson shared that the flexibility WCU offers with its online courses is often the difference between a degree and never being able to achieve that goal for working professionals. 

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