At age 16, Dorothy Bingham’s youngest daughter began taking college classes. It was around that time that Bingham, who quit college many years ago to get married and have a family, decided to go back to school.
I couldn’t stand the thought of being home alone and doing nothing, so I decided to go back to school with her, she said.
Despite life’s challenges, Bingham, 54, stuck with school and today, eight years later, she will graduate with an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast and begin preparing to take certification exams to become a respiratory therapist. She is among about 1,000 students who will receive degrees and certificates at tonight’s ceremony at 7:30 at Memorial Coliseum. The speaker will be U.S. District Court Judge Lorna Schofield, a New Haven native.
Bingham’s daughter, now 24, will also graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Psychology was the major Bingham also started out with, but after home-schooling three children, she said she knew she wanted a career in the health care industry.
I like working with people, she said. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. When life happens, your interests change.
Bingham, who lives in Pierceton, started her second attempt at college at Ivy Tech’s South Bend campus in the nursing program but struggled with an unexplained illness. She was recently diagnosed with diastolic heart failure, a chronic condition that causes her body to fill with fluid and makes it harder to do things, she said.
But it doesn’t stop me from working. At least, I won’t let it, she said.
She’s working to live with her condition. She’s lost 15 pounds and takes medication. As a result of the challenges, she transferred to the Ivy Tech campus in Fort Wayne to be closer to home. But after meeting Jen Brink, head of the campus’ respiratory care program, Bingham decided to switch to health care.
Ivy Tech has some of the best professors, Bingham said.
She felt she had the support of Brink and other professors in the program and could talk to them about things other than school work. Since she went back to college, Bingham has taken time away from school work – aside from her illness – to be there for her family, like when her daughter was severely burned while living in South Korea.
Bingham’s daughter was teaching English as a second language classes and performing mission work in the Asian country. A pressure cooker exploded near her, and she received first-, second- and third-degree burns from the waist down. Bingham traveled to South Korea for a week to care for her daughter.
This year, the apartment her daughter’s husband was renting in South Korea burned down, and the couple lost everything. They are now living with Bingham in Pierceton.
During her time in school, one of Bingham’s grandchildren was born 10 weeks early. While the baby spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit, Bingham was a regular visitor.
I used to be very picky about small things, she said of life before being a college student, mother, wife and grandmother. You just have to let those things go.
She said her husband of more than 30 years has been incredibly supportive of her goal of graduating college. He works second shift as a maintenance man and would often get up at 4:30 a.m. with Bingham to study.
I probably wouldn’t have made it through without him saying, You can do this,’ she said.
To those who are considering returning to school after many years away, Bingham said no one is ever too old to go back.
I wasn’t sure I would fit in, but some of my best friends in the program are in their early 20s. There wasn’t the generation gap I thought there’d be, she said.
An important lesson she has learned is about making time for what’s important, like school work.
Sometimes you just have to make room for it in your life and put other things on the back burner, she said.