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Life in fast lane: Carol Hicks isn't slowing down

Submitted by Thomas Wilson • Jun 9, 2020 at 5:00 PM

Carol Hicks was busy with a traditional Southern rite of spring: putting fresh strawberry preserves into jars. That might seem like a pretty normal thing for grandmothers like Carol, but this grandmother is far from traditional.

At age 75, Carol graduated this spring from Northeast State Community College with a technical certificate in accounting.

“This was a challenge beyond a challenge,” Carol said. “I did not know if I could do it or not.”

The oldest of six children, Carol attended Kingsley Elementary School and the former Ketron High School, now served by Sullivan North High School. She ultimately graduated from Blountville High School in 1962. She went to work as a bookkeeper after graduating. She and her husband, Clyde, left the area when his active-duty service in the U.S. Marine Corps took them to Quantico, Virginia, for a time.

After a professional career, Carol decided to retire three years ago. She had enjoyed a long association as an employee and volunteer with Junior Achievement in Kingsport. Clyde had already retired from the United Parcel Service.

Carol’s thoughts turned to what else might be out there.

“I’d thought off and on what opportunities I had not availed myself of or missed out on,” Carol explained.

Not being the sit-still type, Carol knew Northeast State offered technical certificates and associate degrees. She also learned of a new program called Tennessee Reconnect which gives adults a second chance at college degree. So, she made a big decision; she enrolled at Northeast State in January of 2018.

“I was scared to death to begin with because it takes me a little longer to do things now,” she recalled. “I didn’t know how to approach the professors.”

The first challenge facing the first-time freshman was the bugbear for college students young and mature: mathematics. Carol enrolled in the Learning Support course Principles of Applied Math 0010 to satisfy certificate requirements. It was a learning experience, to say the least.

“It introduced me to things I had no experience with at all,” she said. “I lost 10 pounds taking that class.”

When Carol informed her family of her decision to return to college, reactions were mostly positive. Clyde supported his wife’s decision taking up cooking, laundry service, and other household responsibilities. The decision did puzzle one sibling, Carol admits.

“My sister said, ‘Are you crazy?!’” Carol said. “But they are all very pleased to see I did it.”

Carol said because nontraditional students approached learning with different perspectives, their methods of learning were also nontraditional. She credited The Learning Center tutors and personnel at Basler Library for their support. One tutor turned out to be a student Carol recognized as a child she taught in Sunday school class several years back.

Overall, for Carol, the rules of success were straightforward: Knowing everything has an order, following directions, and observing order to a process. The discipline paid off as she graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.

“You have to put time into this. It is not going to come easy,” she said. “Professors do not spoon feed you (the) information.”

She found many shared experiences with students of all ages — from long study sessions to the often-fruitless search for convenient parking. When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic moved courses online this spring, Carol adjusted with the help of faculty and staff. Professors who stood out in her mind are now-retired Accounting Professor Lynn Anderson and adjunct faculty instructor Linda Wyatt. The encouragement and availability of those professors kept Carol focused.

Carol had an opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., following high school for a career. However, she turned it down. Pursuing the mega-business life did not appeal to her as much as the smaller, more intimate surroundings, she said.

And though the big city rat race held little appeal, Carol did choose a different kind of fast lane.

Since 2001, she has competed in the Tennessee Senior Olympics as a sprinter in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter events. She has been a state Senior Games gold medalist in her age group for over 10 years. Her sprinting prowess qualified her to compete multiple times at the national Senior Olympic games. Those competitions have taken her across the country. In the 2017 Senior Olympics held in Minnesota, she placed third in the nation in her age group for the 50-, 100- and 200-meter races.

“This past summer, I competed in New Mexico and came in third in the 100 and 200 meters and tied for third in the 50 meters,” she said. “I was also part of the 4 x 100 relay team that won the gold medal and set a new national record for our age group.”

In addition, she and Clyde spent five weeks exploring Alaska last year with relatives. The couple drove the Alaskan Highway seeing the majestic scenery of the 49th state.

Like the rest of her graduating class, Carol was saddened to learn the traditional spring commencement ceremony was postponed and eventually adapted into a virtual event. Still, picking up her graduate cap and gown and diploma marked an incredible milestone.

What’s next? Maybe slowing down (a little), but certainly not shutting down. Carol says she looks forward to spending more time with her two children and six grandchildren. 

Whatever else the future holds, she can celebrate another accomplishment — one achieved through determination, talent and hard work.

“It is never too late,” said Hicks. “We are capable of more than we know!”

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