Nila Jennings, a Middle Childhood Education graduate, recently served as the Owens Community College class representative. She addressed the graduates during the Commencement Ceremony in December.
Jennings grew up in a small, rural town in Tennessee. From a young age she dreamed of a college education, but at that time and in the area she grew up in, there were not many women who attended college.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled in a one-year program at Knoxville Business College and finished at the top of her class. She went on to work as a secretary and administrative assistant and started a family. From time-to-time, she would take a few classes at community colleges wherever she lived.
In 1995, Jennings moved to the Toledo area and began an online home-decor business. Despite enjoying success in life, she always felt that without a degree she was missing something.
"My life has been very rewarding, but many doors were always closed to me because I was missing that one very important piece - a formal education," said Jennings.
At the urging of her family, she enrolled at Owens Community College in 2007, at the age of 53. Although a non-traditional student, Jennings benefited from the camaraderie she shared with the younger students.
Her son, Jason Carver, was a constant source of support and encouragement for her throughout her time at Owens. It was his love and confidence in her, the devotion of her family and the steady encouragement from faculty members at Owens that led to her success.
"Failure is never failure unless we quit" is one of Jennings favorite sayings, which she spoke about in her commencement address.
Jennings is attending The University of Toledo for her bachelor's in organizational and leadership management. She is on the board of the PAM Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides clothing and school supplies to economically disadvantaged students in southeast Tennessee's rural communities.
"Because of my Owens degree, I have the opportunity to help children and adults know that a college degree is attainable for everyone who dares to believe, take the first step and never give up," said Jennings.