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Our Journeys

To date, the Finish Line program has assisted 84 students in achieving their goal of earning their Bachelor's degree. This has all happened over a few short years with our first Finish Line students enrolling in Fall 2015. We currently have many more students enrolled with this same goal in mind. Below are some of our graduates' journeys.

“The Finish Line program is aptly named. It gave me the exact vision and focal point I needed as motivation to make it to the ‘finish line’ of completing my degree. I started the journey with WCU in 2009 and after a divorce and becoming a single mother maintaining my focus and financial commitment to finish was discouraging. During my time away from WCU, I continued in a career that I loved, got remarried, and had another child. But the hanging incompletion of my degree was always an area of regret for me. In January of 2016 I received an invitation to the Finish Line program and it was all the incentive I needed. As simple as the invitation was, it was as if someone was saying “you can do it”. It let me know there were others like me and it felt like WCU cared about our success even when ‘life’ happens. The team was responsive and encouraging. It still required some grit with a thriving career and adding a third baby, but the ‘finish line’ was now in sight. Thank you Finish Line team! Your consistent efforts helped me put a check of completion next to my degree.”

Jacqueline Carter
Graduated: December 14, 2019
Degree: BS - Criminal Justice; Concentration - Administration of Justice


"I had originally gone to WCU as a traditional student, meaning I was between the ages of 18 and 22.  For at least a few reasons, when I got to my senior year I decided to leave school.  My time away gave me peace and understanding about what I wanted out of life.  Not to mention I gained maturity and life experience.  There were some hard lessons along the way.  My point is all of these things are invaluable as a returning student.  Many younger students will look up to you as an example.  And that, too, makes this whole process go beyond pure academics.  Anyway, after 5 years away I made the decision to finish.  Upon returning to WCU, I was immediately met with support from the Finish Line program.  They helped me get reacquainted to the idea of taking classes.  I know that after a long time away from school, the idea of taking classes can feel foreign.  The one-on-one mentoring I received helped get me in the right mindset that would make me successful in my final year of college.  I knew that if I ever needed help or felt overwhelmed, the wonderful people coordinating the Finish Line program had my back.  It’s great to be a Catamount and be a part of this wonderful, supportive, hard-working community, no matter what stage of life you’re at."

Joe Van Nort
Graduated: December 14, 2019
Degree: BS - Biology; Concentration - Pre-Health Professional Biology


“When I finished my Junior year, it was with the intention of taking a semester off and finishing my degree in the spring when the courses I needed were offered. I spent three months in Portland, Oregon with my sister learning how to be an adult and came back to North Carolina that October. A month later I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and my whole life was put on hold for treatment. After I finished treatment I started working full-time and I just wanted to have a life again. The following March I started considering finishing my degree since I had only been a semester from finishing and I could see the difference in opportunities for people who had degrees in my workplace. My frustration at this was one of the biggest motivators for completing my studies. When I reached out to WCU again I was notified about my eligibility for the Finish Line program and it definitely encouraged me to follow through with the reapplication process.
Shortly after reapplying I started learning about the new B.F.A. Entertainment Design and Technology degree which was exactly what I had wanted in the previous program. It was perfect timing for me and I'm incredibly grateful to Tory Depew, Magen Hinson, and Emily Sharp for helping me straighten out my new degree, helping me become a part of the Honors College again, and putting up with my flood of emails and questions. I felt sort of odd the first few weeks being back on campus as a student, but I've never regretted the decision to finish my degree and it feel like one of the best decisions I've made. It will be two years since I finished all of my treatments a week after graduation so I have a lot to look forward to in May.”

Christine McConnell
Graduated: May 11, 2019
Degree: BFA – Theatre


“I left Western during the Spring semester of 2014 (my senior year). At that time, I had developed a significant following on social media, and was receiving opportunities to travel and make money through brand deals. This, along with the struggle of severe senioritis, is what ultimately led to me deciding to remove myself from school. I spent the next few years moving around and partaking in different areas of creativity. Moving to Los Angeles in 2015 was the peak this advancement, and although I thoroughly enjoyed my time out there and the people I had met, I wanted to come back to NC and resettle here. I was offered a job in Raleigh, and have been working as a Project Engineer for the same company for the last 3 years. I received an email early in the year of 2018 about a new program that was being instilled at WCU. Made for students, like me, who had minimal credits needed to complete their degree. My experience with the Finish Line Program was an incredible one. The transition back into an educational environment was seamless. I was consistently in contact with WCU staff members that made it very easy to keep up with all the necessary requirements I needed to finish. After more than 4 years away from the university, I could not be more pleased with the opportunity to complete my degree, from the receipt of the initial email to the final notice of meeting my degree credits.”

Daniel Ratliff
Graduated: May 11, 2019
Degree: BS – Hospitality Tourism Management


“My father passed away quite unexpectedly in the Spring of 2014. It was my senior year at WCU.  I was devastated to say the least.  I tried to continue my education, however, I lost all direction in life. I left Western Carolina one semester short of graduating. I have regretted that day for the past five years.  During my time away from school I was frightened of the unknown.  I had no direction.  I made a few mistakes, rekindled relationships with people I love, but I had no motivation or goals.  I decided to move to Florida for a new start and began working at a golf course.  One day I received a flyer from Mr. Gamble who gave me the good news that I was eligible to reapply and graduate through the Finish Line program.  Words cannot describe how relieved and excited I was!  The Finish Line program along with the awesome help of Mr. Gamble, I have accomplished my goal of being a third generation graduate of Western Carolina University.  Although I am 728 miles and four states away, Cullowhee, North Carolina keeps calling me home!”

Jon Brazil
Graduated: December 15, 2018
Degree: BS – Interdisciplinary Studies


"It was a long journey to get to the finish line, and I have finally made it.  Larger than life, Accomplishment, and Love of life are things that I feel when I think about what I am about to have.  As a First-Generation College Student, I am more than happy to bring this to my family and let them enjoy as well, for without them I would be lost.  Words cannot describe the ecstasy of the coming days.  Thanks to my Family, to my Professors, especially the ones that remembered me after all this time.  Thank you, Richard Gamble, and keep inspiring people to be their best."

Jerry Benge
Graduated: May 12, 2018
Degree: BS – Political Science; Minor – Criminal Justice


“When I left Western Carolina University in 2013, I was only one semester short of graduation. For the last five years, I wished that I had completed my degree but have been unsure how to make this a reality as a working adult. After speaking to Richard and the other staff in the Advising Center with the Finish Line Program, I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I prepared myself for the possibility of commuting from home to campus and fitting class into my work schedule, and then I received the most amazing news! By consolidating my previous credits into the Interdisciplinary Studies program, I was going to be able to graduate without taking any additional classes! I went from being a working person with no idea how to complete my degree to a Class of 2018 graduate in a just a couple weeks. For anyone who feels that how I did: held back by my lack of education and wishing for the feeling of accomplishment of being a college graduate, I strongly suggest contacting the Finish Line program. You may be surprised by what they can offer you and how quickly you can say... I graduated from WCU!”

Catherine Boyd
Graduated: May 12, 2018
Degree: BS – Interdisciplinary Studies


“After graduating high school, I knew my next path would be college.  I assumed I would finish in four years but then life happened.  I got sick during my last semester and dropped out with one class left to finish my degree.  Once I got better I had the opportunity to travel through work and see wonderful places.  Flash forward 5 years and I still didn’t have my degree.  My Mom had lung cancer this past year and I decided to quit my job to take care of her.  One of the last things I was able to tell my Mom before she died was that I was going back to Western Carolina University.  I received the Finish Line postcard and knew what I had to do.  The postcard made everything seem so easy.  So, I made the call and I was completely amazed by how much they walked me through the process of re-enrolling.  I am on schedule to finally graduate in May and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Western Carolina University Finish Line program.”

Ann Coxe
Graduated: May 12, 2018
Degree: BS – Hospitality Tourism Management


“This is the Grammys, this is the Oscars, I have just won the Nobel Peace prize in being awesome. I’d like to thank everyone at the Finish Line program, Matt Liddle my advisor, longtime Sylva friends who have cheered me on, and my family (to whom this will be a total surprise). I started at Western in 1999 and since discovering the Finish Line program last year, there hasn’t been a moment where I don’t get giddy in anticipation of my graduation. The nearly 20 years it has taken me to complete my degree has shifted my perspective on the value of education—what was once an obligation, is now a privilege. I am so grateful. I didn’t do this to get a promotion or increase my marketability in the workforce (although those are completely honorable things). I tackled this in the spirit of making right a series of wrongs and addressing a regret that I no longer wanted to have. Gone are the days that I have to get shifty in my seat when people inquire about my education. I can stop saying that I “attended” WCU, and start saying that I graduated from WCU! This program has been invaluable to me—what once seemed insurmountable, has been conquered!”

Patricia Dowdy
Graduated: December 16, 2017
Degree: BA - Art


"My name is Jakeli Swimmer and I graduated this past December. My original graduation date was 3 years prior. I ran cross country and track at Western for 4 years but right before my final semester, I welcomed my first daughter. Having the obligation to take care of my young family, I decided to work and hold off of school. I was allowed to join the finish line program and have nothing but a great experience."

Jakeli Swimmer
Graduated: December 17, 2016
Degree: BS – History; Minor – Cherokee Studies


"I attended WCU 1974-1978 and left one class short of obtaining my degree.  Then life happened; marriage, children, and career. Several well-meaning attempts over the years on my part to finish were met with obstacles, mostly with job-related travel. After contacting WCU last year to explore my options, I was directed to Alicia Cameron in the "Finish Line" program. I received excellent guidance and assistance from Alicia, which ultimately resulted in receiving my diploma this past May. I even walked the stage, 42 years after moving into Harrill Dorm. I have nothing but the highest praise for this program and would highly recommend any "part-way home" student to utilize these services to realize their lifelong dream of obtaining a college degree."

Bill McCracken
Graduated: May 7, 2016
Degree: BS - Education: Social Studies


"To say that Western Carolina is in my blood would be an understatement at best. My parents graduated from Western in the Spring of 1981 and my brother graduated in December of 2012. I've been going to Western with my family since I can remember and it always felt like a second home to me. Naturally, when it came time for me to pick a college, Western was my first choice. I started at Western in the Summer of 2003 with no idea what I wanted to major in but plenty of time decide. In the Spring of 2007, all of my friends graduated and I was still sixteen hours short of completing my degree in Sociology. I decided to move back to Raleigh where my family was and complete the sixteen hours I needed. There are times that I wish I would have stayed at Western an extra semester to complete my degree because it took me much longer than I would have liked. By 2015 I was working full time, on my way to becoming a supervisor and one hour short of completing my degree. I attended a Western Alumni event with my parents in the Spring and that's when we learned about the Finish Line Program. Although I was at a job that I really enjoyed, my parents convinced me to apply so that I could finish my degree. My degree arrived in January of 2016 and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Without my parents and the Finish Line Program, who knows when or if I would have finished my degree. Now I can officially call Western not only my Alma mater but also my home."

Cassie Staples
Graduated: December 12, 2015
Degree: BS – Sociology; Minor - Special Education

More journeys to come and yours could be next, please reach out to us on how we can assist you in completing your journey to graduation.

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