By David Arkin: PNT Correspondent
Lenna Rolan doesn’t think it’s a real good idea for her to pursue a master’s degree.
She’s just not sure when she would ever finish it. You have to understand, it took her 26 semesters to get her undergraduate degree.
It’s not that Rolan had trouble in class – in fact she excelled — she just took her time.
Make that a lot of time.
She was working full time and raising a family and decided for the last decade to only take one class a semester.
For sure though, she will be wearing a big smile on Saturday when she walks across the stage at Greyhound Arena to get her bachelor of business degree from Eastern New Mexico University during graduation ceremonies.
And she should be happy. It’s hard to imagine many others who have waited as long as she has for that piece of paper.
“I always thought that I would just go to school, but never get to the end,” she said. “I didn’t think that I would ever make it.”
A long road
Rolan, who was born and raised in Portales, started her ENMU career in 1975. She finished a full year of classes and decided not to come back the next year.
She ended up coming back to ENMU in 1980, not as a student but as a secretary in the university’s advising center.
Fourteen years later, she decided it was finally time to get back in the classroom.
The university offered a program that allowed those who worked at ENMU full-time to take one class each semester for free.
For the next 26 semesters, including some summer sessions, she took that lone class all in an effort to get her double major in business administration and accounting.
And she never dropped a single class.
“If I dropped a class I would feel like I had wasted a whole semester,” she said this week at her office on campus. “A lot of people think it’s easy to do this – taking one class a semester for free – but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Rolan said when she started taking class again in 1994, she knew she faced an uphill battle.
“I remember thinking, ‘oh man, this is going to take a long time;” she said. “But I have gone a total of 26 semesters.”
You are how old?
As it is with many non-traditional students, going back to the classroom was difficult for Rolan.
“When I came back I was very much afraid,” she said. “I was just so intimidated. During the first test I took when I came back I was popping so much Pepto Bismol in class.”
It wasn’t just the pressure of tests that had Rolan concerned – how her classmates responded to her worried her as well.
“I was worried about what all of those college kids would think,” she said. “I think I worried about that more than anything else. I worried about being old.”
As early as last Fall, Rolan had concerns about classmates — who were so young they could be her children – reacting to working on a big project with her.
She was taking a business policy class – the final class that a business major takes before graduating. The teacher paired students off into small groups, which function like individual businesses. The groups throughout the semester had to make decisions about their business.
“When I got in the group I thought ‘oh man, I’m going to have to spend all of this time with this group every week’ and it just felt so weird,” she said. “At first they were calling me mam. But now they are like my friends. Everyone always made me feel good. No one ever made me feel out of place.”
At the office
Two years ago, ENMU’s financial office made a great hire, according to a top official in the department.
They hired Rolan.
“Lenna is a fantastic worker,” said Theresa Beres, associate director of financial aid at ENMU. “It’s hard to get her to go home. She is just so wonderful. She is the best kind of person to have in your office, because she is also a friend.”
Rolan though had concerns about coming to work in the financial aid office.
“I was always a little intimidated about the financial aid office, because of the federal regulations,” she said.
The intimidation is now gone and she clearly loves being a financial aid specialist.
In fact, after she graduates she plans to continue to work at the office.
“I didn’t know that I would love this job so much,” she said. “I really like working at the university.”
And her co-workers are glad that she likes her job so much.
“She is such a consciousness person in the way she goes about her studies,” said Jan Terry, an ENMU financial aid specialist. “She always thinks about the big picture. She is always concerned about who gets affected and how it affects others and that’s exactly the way she was in class.”
But it’s not just the serious side of Rolan that people like Terry love.
“We were talking just the other day about what we would ever do without her,” Terry said. “She is our comic relief. She can tell a story like no one else.”
Rolan said she has learned through working at the office how crucial financial aid is for students.
“I don’t think financial aid should be such a mystery,” she said. “There has been a big difference since the 1970s when pretty much no one got financial aid. It was really rare. Now it is like water. Now everyone has some sort of financial aid.”
Love them Hounds
Rolan has seen ENMU, its students and faculty change over the years – from new buildings to a variety of dressing fads.
She even remembers ENMU when she wasn’t old enough to step foot in a classroom.
“When I was little I can remember the football stadium being on campus,” she said. “I really liked that because if the football team was doing well you would hear the cannon go off.”
The campus now looks much different, and according to Rolan, better than it used to.
“The airplane hanger is no longer in the middle of campus,” she said. “I think the campus looks great.”
As would be expected, Rolan has also seen many trends come and go – from disco attire, to punk rock to piercings.
“The different fads have shocked me at times,” she said. “I’m basically really conservative and all that stuff like tattoos and piercings really shocks me. But the students are really fun.”
Hard to say goodbye
Graduations create different emotions for everybody. For Rolan, it could be a tough day, if her previous days are any indication.
She said that she sent out many announcements to friends and family to let them know that the big day is finally here.
“People told me that if I ever graduated to let them know,” she said. “I have been getting lots of cards and e-mails. I came back from lunch the other day and just cried. I just never thought I would finish.”
Rolan is ending her ENMU career on a high note — she aced her last class. And because of her performance this semester, she didn’t have to take her last final.
“It felt like I was cheating this week,” she said. “I got an A and didn’t have to take the final. It just feels kind of unreal.”