A past mistake, the realities of life and a mother's love are markers guiding Michelle Knight's 18-year journey toward a college degree, a trek that has redefined the life of this Carolina employee and forever changed those she loves.
Knight admits that she didn't take her first attempt at college seriously. But after her children started school, she realized that education was the pathway to success. And she needed to set an example.
"I expected both of my children to finish high school and go to college," the Carolina
Coliseum administrative assistant says. "How could I make them go if I didn't set
an example? I didn't want them to one day say, 'You didn't go to college. Why should
Armed with determination and a mother's devotion, she pursued a college degree a second time. Knight made full use of being able to take one free class each semester, a benefit that the University of South Carolina offers its employees. For nearly two decades — even when her son's sporting events, church obligations and PTA fundraisers made it difficult — she went to class, either during lunch or after work.
Because her position at the coliseum requires her presence, Knight often juggled school assignments with working sporting events, local high school graduations and special events. She studied late into the night, earned excellent grades and accumulated a 3.92 grade point average in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in sociology and hotel, restaurant and tourism management.
Along the way, she's witnessed the administrations of three university presidents and the university's westward expansion across Assembly Street. She changed jobs and became an expert at filling out the tuition assistance application. She had one academic adviser retire and another take different responsibilities. She endured back surgery and recently interned at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
"Michelle took it one step at a time, and she never wavered," says Sid Kenyon, director of the Carolina Coliseum and Knight's supervisor. "We were always able to work out a schedule so that she could attend class and not miss work. Michelle is an inspiration for her colleagues and her fellow students. I'm very proud of her accomplishments."
Her journey wasn't over when she marched across the Colonial Life Arena stage in May. With her degree in hand, she hopes to pursue other career options at Carolina. "In the past, there were several jobs that would have been perfect for me. But without a college degree, they were out of reach. Not anymore," Knight says.
But more importantly, her example to her family stuck. Her daughter is well on her way to completing a second master's degree, and her son recently completed training at Midlands Technical College and is working at Komatsu in Newberry, S.C.