For Rogers State University student Leisa Railey, the road from graduating high school to finishing college was longer and bumpier than it is for most.
When degrees are bestowed upon graduates this spring, Railey’s diploma will signify the culmination of years of hard work and an accomplishment decades in the making as she will be graduating with her master’s degree 40 years after she graduated from high school.
“I graduated from Moody Christian Academy (high school) in 1983,” Railey said, reflecting on her journey. “Not long after that, I had a child and I got married, which wasn’t really my plan at the time, but things happen. Life happens.”
“Life” continued happening to Railey as she had more children, a total of four in all. She became a single mother and went to work to support herself and her family.
In 2001, she injured herself while employed at ASEC Manufacturing at the Port of Catoosa and was unable to return to work, which led her to reconsider continuing her education.
“I got together with a career counselor and, since I was living in Claremore, decided to attend Rogers State University – primarily because of its closeness, but I’d also heard good things about it,” she said.
Railey decided to pursue an associate degree in legal assistance as she “wanted to help people in some way,” little realizing the university and its culture would be helping her in ways she’d never imagined.
“I was a little uncertain at first, being 40 years old at the time and coming back to school, surrounded by all of these kids, but I never felt out of place,” she said. “All the other students, all my professors, everyone treated me wonderfully. Everyone was very accepting, very supportive, and I quickly found out that the ethic here – placing such importance on the students and their education – is geared to help the students truly succeed.”
Railey graduated with her associate degree in 2005, and went to work at various law offices, eventually returning to RSU to work on her bachelor’s degree – this time, in psychology.
It was while she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree that she fell upon hardship, becoming homeless and having her car repossessed, leaving her without the means by which to go to her classes.
Again, Rogers State University came to her rescue.
“Someone found out about my situation, and through my financial aid, the university helped provide an apartment for my son and me,” she said. “That was a difficult time, very difficult, but it just shows how the staff here at RSU truly cares about their people.”
Railey’s situation soon improved and she stayed on track to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in 2017. She later returned to continue her education further, working on her master’s degree, this time in community counseling.
“Rogers State has been so good to me – to my family,” she said. “I’m so honored to have been a part of it, to have seen it grow the way that it has, and I can’t imagine getting my degree from anywhere else. It took me a long time to get here, to achieve my dream, but I’m so glad I did.”
When asked if she had any words of encouragement for those considering returning to college to complete or earn their degrees, Railey’s advice was succinct.
“Go for it,” she said. “Don’t let doubts keep you from following your dreams. It doesn’t matter when you do it, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just go for it. It’s never too late, and Rogers State is absolutely the best place you could go to continue your education.”
Railey will receive her Master of Science in community counseling this spring during RSU’s commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 13.
Rogers State University is a regional university serving northeast Oklahoma, and the only four-year public residential university in the Tulsa metropolitan area.
For more information about available degree programs at Rogers State University, visit www.rsu.edu/degrees.