Commencement Spotlight: Mary Ledbetter-Gallagher wants to inspire non-traditional students to succeed in college

 Mary Ledbetter-Gallagher

Mary Ledbetter Gallagher

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(May 2, 2016) -- Meet Mary Ledbetter-Gallagher. This history major wants to show non-traditional students that an education is worth meeting challenges head on.

For more than 25 years, Ledbetter-Gallagher, 57, had dedicated her life to being a mother to her three sons, a grandmother to her grandchildren and a wife to her husband. But in 2006, her life suddenly changed when a divorce left her with few job skills or substantial work history.

"After my divorce, I ended up working as a bus driver to pay the bills," Ledbetter-Gallagher said. "I had a small settlement from my divorce and the money from my job, but I lived below the poverty line."

Ledbetter-Gallagher knew that she needed to find a way to better her situation. She would need to do what her six siblings or parents had not – graduate from college. She enrolled at the local community college, attending classes in the evenings or between shifts.

Community college wasn't easy for Ledbetter-Gallagher. She did not receive financial aid for several semesters and had to drop out for a bit as a result. "It was a tough situation to be in."

Ledbetter-Gallagher eventually completed her associate's degree requirements in 2014. It was at the moment of her graduation that she says a fire lit inside her, a passion for education. She set her sights on her next goal, obtaining the bachelor's degree that had proved elusive to her siblings. She enrolled at UTSA and got to work.

As a UTSA student, Ledbetter-Gallagher's spirits were much improved. She received financial aid and obtained a few scholarships. She even found a renewed interest in American history, a subject that she has always loved.

"As a child, I adored history," Ledbetter-Gallagher said. "I would often sit with my family and watch historical documentaries or movies. And as a woman, I've learned about the importance of women being able to compete academically because of our history in our country."

And, perhaps due to being a non-traditional student, Ledbetter-Gallagher said that she felt a profound need to work hard at her studies to prove herself and her peers.

"I strive to be the strongest student that I can be," Ledbetter-Gallagher said. "For me, earning my degree is worth all the hours spent in the library researching, writing and rewriting research papers and running on very little sleep."

Over the last two years, Ledbetter-Gallagher embraced and thrived in her life as a UTSA student. She is a member of the Honors College, and several student organizations, including the Honors Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Tau Sigma, the History Honors Society and the Golden Key International Honor Society. She has even been named to the Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. She credits her professors with providing the support that allowed her to succeed.

"I have had some of the most inspiring people come into my life through my classes," Ledbetter-Gallagher said. "They have encouraged me to no end. On the days when I felt overwhelmed, the faculty, my Honors College advisor and the support staff on campus have backed me up and supported me. I'm so happy I chose to attend UTSA."

Though her road to graduation has not been easy, when Ledbetter-Gallagher crosses the stage in May, she will do so with the pride that comes with knowing she was able to overcome the obstacles that life put in her way.

"I love UTSA," Ledbetter-Gallagher said. "I have had the most amazing experiences. I'm a non-traditional student, and I've had my challenges. But I hope that my success can help other non-traditional students, especially older women, see that it's possible. I know how hard it can be, but it's worth it."

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