Non-traditional student inspires
42-year-old advises others to ‘just do it’
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
It is easy to see them: the students in class who are different from the rest, who have had more life experiences. Non-traditional students are a small but significant portion of the student population at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dawne Kennedy, 42, is part of the non-traditional student population at USM. Her life story took many twist and turns, leading her to Southern Miss in 2010. She is a junior with a work load that is legendary. She is double-majoring in history and religion and triple-minoring in German, Latin and classics. She is an Honors College student and a Ronald McNair Scholar. She plans to attend graduate school in Oslo, Norway.
These accomplishments are above and beyond what is expected for many college students, but they are just the most recent endeavors of a highly motivated individual. Kennedy said that for many years she had a successful sales career in corporate America and did a stint in New Orleans as part of the entertainment industry.
“We booked events from fortune tellers to musicians,” Kennedy said. “It was great fun.”
Kennedy always had a passion for travel and lived in Los Angeles, Calif. when she was younger.
“I was really into music when I was younger, so I lived in Los Angeles for two years,” Kennedy said. “I really had the gypsy bug when I was younger. I loved to travel...I still do.”
Kennedy is planning to take a class trip to Rome next year.
After her sales career, Kennedy worked as a police officer. She was the first female police officer in the town of Lake, Miss.
“It was strange and serendipitous how I got the job,” Kennedy said. “I enjoyed the training and physicality, but the job wasn’t my cup of tea. In a small town you get in a car and ride around. Sometimes you get a call out. It was kind of boring. I wasn’t intellectually challenged.”
At this point, Kennedy had many experiences and successes under her belt, but fate intervened; the most pivotal, shattering moment of her life was yet to come.
“I was on my way home from work one afternoon, and my car was struck from head on,” Kennedy said. “For four years, I didn’t walk. Doctors never expected me to. It took me forever to get on disability. It was a dark time in my life.”
However, Kennedy kept her optimistic spirit and slowly recovered. The injuries were the kindling for her desire to return to college.
“I am not this person. I will not be content, and I can’t afford to sit in a chair for the rest of my life,” Kennedy said. “I always wanted to go back to school but didn’t have the time. My mind is still my mind, and I am going back and making something out of myself.”
At first, Kennedy used a walker but now walks on her own.
“I plan classes so I don’t have to do a lot of walking because there is still a lot of pain involved, but I am released for exercise by my physician to get myself ready for the Rome trip next year,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has made many friends in her time at Southern Miss. Melanie Boyd, a junior photojournalism and religion major, is in a class with her dealing with the New Testament.
“Dawne is an inspiration to everyone,” Boyd said. “Through the devastating accident, she came out on top and bettered her life. Most people would give up but not Dawne. She went to school and accomplished so much. Not only is she ridiculously intelligent, but she enjoys learning, and she enjoys helping people. I went into this 300-level class feeling intimidated by the material and my fellow classmates. Dawne immediately welcomed me and helped me understand the class a lot better.”
Kennedy offered advice for individuals considering enrollment as non-traditional students.
“Just do it,” Kennedy said. “Commit to it. You can’t do it without sacrifice. Don’t feel intimidated because everyone is younger than you. There are so many things you can learn from everybody, from youngest freshman to the best professor. You have to be serious about it and love it. Have zest for life.”
Zest for life is certainly something Kennedy has in abundance.