Sharon Culver never had any doubts that she’d earn her degree. But that doesn’t mean it came easy.
Since enrolling at Washington State University Vancouver five years ago, Culver has endured four surgeries because of various medical issues. She suffered a heart attack in January, then a return trip to the hospital in February.
She’s also 70 years old.
“I decided I was going to do it, and I was going to finish,” said Culver, who lives in the Salmon Creek area. “And that was it.”
Culver earned her bachelor’s degree in human development, with hopes of becoming a social worker. She was one of 975 WSUV graduates from the Class of 2015 honored Saturday during the school’s annual commencement ceremony.
Among the faces in the crowd were several of Culver’s family members, who stood and cheered when she crossed the stage at the Amphitheater Northwest. Culver has three children, 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Danielle Franklin, who lives in Woodland but works as a truck driver in North Dakota, made the trip to see her mother complete the journey.
“She’s my inspiration,” Franklin said. “She should be an inspiration to a lot of people.”
Culver has previously worked lengthy careers in both nursing and accounting. She also worked a brief stint as a school bus driver. Culver chose social work this time around, she said, because “I wanted to help people.”
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, and I want to help other people go through things, too,” Culver said.
At an age when many people are retired, Culver said she plans to work as long as she is able. She doesn’t have a job lined up yet. While in school, she completed an internship at Share, a Vancouver nonprofit that serves the hungry and homeless.
Culver received plenty of congratulations and well wishes even before Saturday, she said. Earlier in the week, a “Class of 2015” balloon floated in her living room as she reflected on the accomplishment hours after her last exam.
Culver wasn’t the only person among this year’s graduates who have gone back to school later in life. Indeed, WSUV Chancellor Mel Netzhammer gave a nod to those students during his opening remarks Saturday, noting some started careers or families years ago.
The average age of WSUV students is 26, said spokeswoman Brenda Alling — a number that reflects plenty of non-traditional enrollees. The diversity of the campus is something many students say they like most about it, she said.
“We’re a melting pot,” Alling said. “We have everything.”
As Culver’s name was announced during Saturday’s ceremony, Franklin shouted “go Mom!” as she and other family members watched proudly.
Then, Franklin spoke quietly: “She did it.”