Diane Robinson’s life has made an impression on her daughter and grandson.
For one thing, they know it’s never too late to go to college.
“College really doesn’t have an age,” said grandson Thomas Loll, 20. “A lot of people get stressed out early, trying to find out what they want to do. I know I can decide way later, because I have two examples in my life.”
They are Robinson, 61, and his mother, Esther Faye Clay-Arant, 37.
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All three will be graduating from college this week — two with degrees in the helping professions of nursing and social work. Loll is toying with the idea of going into teaching or perhaps computer science.
I don’t plan on retiring any time soon. It’s not one of my aspirations.
The three have mentored each other. Loll says it helps to have someone else at home working on college courses.
But he and Clay-Arant said they are especially proud of Robinson, all the way back to when she started years ago working on an associate degree in nursing.
“She’s been a good role model for my going back to school,” Clay-Arant said. And a good example of how to find and follow your calling.
The nudge came back
“You’re only limited by your own fear,” Robinson told the Sun Herald. She said she knows others besides her family who have gotten inspiration from her story, such as her patients.
The poised, statuesque blonde with a bright smile said her parents gave her no guidance about college early in life. “They never said anything to me about it,” she said. “But I always had success at whatever job I took.”
She married young and went to work for UPS and later Fedex, but in the back of her mind she wanted to be a nurse.
She took a buyout from the delivery companies at 48, though she felt too young to retire. She drove a school bus.
But the nudge to be a nurse came back.
“You get called to those jobs,” she said of nursing. “It’s like you can’t even stop it. You just know it’s what you have to do, like my daughter being a social worker or her son thinking about teaching.”
Robinson was in her 50s when she started her associate degree in nursing, though it gave her the shakes knowing she faced chemistry, college algebra and statistics.
She was heading toward a health profession, and started leading a healthier life as well. When she began meditating, it seemed her forward motion was building. All those fears about the classes she was dreading melted away. She took them one at a time, and passed.
“I became a nurse on my 53rd birthday,” she said. “A lot of people are retiring at that time, and I was starting a new career.”
This month, she will graduate cum laude, with a 3.64 grade-point average and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from William Carey University. Clay-Arant will graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with a 4.0 GPA, recognition as Student of the Year in Social Work and memberships in the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Alpha honor societies.
“We’re not going to talk about Tommy,” Robinson teased. “He graduated.”
Finishing Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he’s headed to Mississippi State University in June to get a bachelor’s degree.
A journey shared
Clay-Arant started college in her 20s, then put it off when life happened and her children were young.
Her sons are now 20, 17 and 13. With her mother as an example, she resumed college in her 30s.
She went to school full time while working as a waitress at Country Gentleman restaurant in Gautier. There was late-night studying, mom duties and an internship. Her husband works and is in graduate school for psychology in the field of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Through it all, she said, she didn’t doubt what she was doing or why. “I want to spend my life helping people.”
“I just told myself, ‘This isn’t going to last forever,’” she said of her jam-packed schedule, and watched her mom. “She taught me that it’s never too late to decide what you want to do, no matter where you are in life. When you decide you want to make your dreams come true, you can.
“She’s an amazing nurse, mother and grandmother. She has that helping thing with her, too.”
Clay-Arant likes connecting people with the proper care, and her internship confirmed she had made the right career choice. She’s already enrolled in a master’s program.
With everyone working hard, the three didn’t realize until about eight months ago they would all graduate in May.
A long road
Robinson has thrived since the day she started work as a surgical recovery nurse. She handles post-anesthesia care.
Long hours are part of the job. She works either three 12-hour days or four 10-hour days.
“I love my schedule. I go to bed early and rest, but I get (three or) four days off each week,” she said.
A bachelor’s degree opens a few more doors, “but it was really about me doing it for myself, proving to myself I could do it.”
Not having guidance early, Robinson got inspired later. She had the urge, the drive.
She began her bachelor’s on the Coast, then took a job as a travel nurse. She loved that, too.
After 16 months of online study came clinicals — the requirement that she shadow another nurse. Working at a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, made it a long haul back to the Coast for that.
But she would work 12-hour shifts in Georgia Monday through Wednesday, then drive back to work at Ocean Springs Hospital on her days off.
She did that for a full semester.
“I’m too old? That’s not true, if you just have the motivation and tenacity, you can do it,” she said. “If you set that age limit on yourself, that’s you.”
The biggest blessing is her good health, she said. “I eat right, do yoga, exercise and I don’t smoke. It’s one of the reasons I have the energy I have.
“I don’t plan on retiring any time soon. It’s not one of my aspirations. As a nurse, I can cut back on my hours and still work. I’ve got a few decades to be contributing.”
About the series: Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.