For Mary Bedwell of St. Maries, the past four years has been like a long, long tunnel-filled with hardships and joys and a lot of hard work and a light at the end that kept pulling her forward.
Friday, May 15, she'll get to take her first step into the light while she and nearly 300 other North Idaho College students walk in the 2009 commencement ceremony.
"I feel like I finally accomplished something," said the 48-year-old Bedwell from the Benewah Valley in St. Maries.
Bedwell started taking classes at NIC four years ago with help through the Center for New Directions, which helps non-traditional college students enroll in college services.
She had dropped out of high school when she was married at 16, but later earned a GED in 1979. But it wasn't until the 1990s that she began to feel a true calling to complete her education, she said.
After remarrying, she and her husband Clifford Bedwell opened their own logging company. Bedwell Logging was thriving until Clifford was in a logging accident in 1994 that rendered him disabled and forced the couple to shut down the company.
Bedwell began working in a series of jobs in an effort to support her family. But she felt unfilled.
"I knew that I needed an education," Bedwell said. "I needed to be able to support my family now and have the ability to support myself later when I might not be able to do physical work anymore."
"But I didn't have a clue what I was walking into."
A certified nurses assistant, she would often start her day by traveling from the St. Maries area to Tekoa, Wash., working with clients through Chesterfield Health Services in-home healthcare. Bedwell took a full course load while at NIC, bringing her to NIC's Coeur d'Alene campus each day and back to Tekoa at night to meet with clients once more in the evenings before beginning hours of studying at home.
Her instructors were inspired by her determination to succeed, although others told her she couldn't do it.
"You have never met anyone more determined and committed to prove to herself-and to anyone that would risk to doubt her-that she can succeed," said NIC Psychology Instructor Kristina Klassen.
"Over the summers, she bought her textbooks early and worked on the next fall's classes because she knew her learning limitations and wanted to get ahead in the work," NIC Math Instructor John Klassen concurred. "She is one who has always been willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, sometimes repeating classes to better her grades rather than give up. Mary was never heard to complain about what was asked of her, but always met each new challenge with incredible perseverance and determination that she would succeed."
Bedwell will walk in this week's NIC commencement ceremony to celebrate her accomplishment of earning an associate's degree and communications certificate from NIC.
But, she said, her journey doesn't end there. She is transferring to Lewis-Clark State College next fall to continue working toward a bachelor's degree in social work, specializing in the elderly.
"NIC has opened up more doors for me," Bedwell said. "I gained so much knowledge-knowledge I didn't even know was out there.
"Just have hope and have faith in yourself. Never give up. I didn't."
A total of 535 students are eligible to graduate from NIC this year, approximately 300 of which will participate in the 2009 NIC commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, May 15.
Because limited seating is available, guest tickets have already been distributed to graduates and attendees will only be admitted to the commencement ceremony with a ticket. Guests are encouraged to arrive early for seating and parking. Campus streets will close down at 9:45 a.m. for the processional. Parking permits will not be needed the day of commencement. Those needing special accommodations should call the NIC Center for Educational Access at (208) 769-5947.
Graduates, friends and families are invited to a reception honoring this year's graduates as well as the college's 75th anniversary immediately following the commencement ceremony on the plaza outside NIC's Edminster Student Union Building. A total of 75 cakes representing the college's 75 years will be served.
Information: NIC Graduation Specialist Chantel Black, 208-769-3330, or Mary Bedwell, 208-245-4844