Student Perseveres to Earn Master's Degree
Walking across the stage at Eastern Kentucky University commencement ceremonies on May 8 was a dream come true for Lyle Danforth of Riley Township, Mich. – a dream more than 30 years in the making.
Danforth was one of 457 students to receive a master’s degree diploma during spring ceremonies that also honored more than 1,600 bachelor’s degree, associate degree and specialist degree candidates, as well as the University’s first-ever doctoral degree recipient.
As the eldest of six children, Danforth spent much of his childhood caring for his four brothers and baby sister after his parents divorced and his mother moved into the role of breadwinner for the family.
Even though she remarried when Danforth was a teenager, the years he spent as the “man of the house” left him with the desire to find a way to ensure the security of his family.
A few years after graduating from high school, he learned that his employer, Coca-Cola, offered a program would pay for college classes if he wanted to continue his education.
The dream began to take shape.
“Once you have knowledge, it is a gift you will have forever,” he explained. “And large numbers of the people unemployed often don’t seem to have degrees or advanced education.”
Danforth started taking courses at a local community college and, after 20 years of part-time classes, earned an associate degree in business.
By then, his family had expanded to include a wife and three children and the dream of continuing his education had expanded as well. Danforth recalled that pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Northwood University in Midland, an hour away from home, was challenging with young children and 10-hour workdays.
But he persevered, taking one or two classes a semester until he earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 2005. During this time, he also left Coca-Cola after 25 years to begin working at Ford Motor Company.
With his bachelor’s degree in hand, he turned his sights on a master’s degree. His work schedule, however, made it difficult to find classes he could attend.
But Danforth was determined.
He began looking at online options – and found EKU and its renowned College of Justice & Safety. A comprehensive university serving more than 16,000 students with four campuses and several regional sites, EKU was listed in the top 10 “Online Colleges with the Highest Retention Rates” and in the top 25 overall in national rankings published by Best Colleges Online in March 2010.
Danforth enrolled in Eastern’s graduate school in 2006 and began taking online courses. This semester, he received a master’s degree in Safety, Security and Emergency Management, with a concentration in occupational safety.
“EKU should be extremely proud of its online programs,” he said. “There’s not always a lot of respect for online education and people would be really surprised to know how much work it actually takes.”
Many of Danforth’s co-workers wondered why he continued to work so hard on his education when his professional career was going so well. But, while Danforth doesn’t plan on changing jobs any time soon, his newly acquired knowledge isn’t going to waste.
“I’ve started to teach health and safety classes for other employees in the company,” he explained. “And there have been times when I’ve had to make decisions about work issues where I absolutely use my education.”
Several members of his family made the trip to Kentucky to celebrate Danforth’s latest milestone in education and his first trip to Kentucky, including his 2 ½-year-old granddaughter and his mother, Sally Pasque.
Danforth credits his mother for much of his determination – not only did she lead by example when she became a single mother of six children, but her determination was displayed graphically during a house fire when Danforth was a child.
“When I was four, our house caught on fire,” he recalled. “Everyone got out except me and when my mother realized I was still in the house, she wouldn’t wait for help to arrive before coming back in to get me. We made it out, but my mother had to spend several months in the hospital because of burns and damage to her lungs. It created a very strong bond between us.”
Pasque said her “heart was overjoyed watching Lyle get his diploma. He worked so hard to get there. He wanted to go to college after graduating from high school but we were a family of 10 and there was no money for it.”
But it wasn’t regret for what might have been that caused his mother to fight back tears at Eastern’s commencement ceremony, but rather an overwhelming sense of pride.
“He wanted to make sure his family didn’t go without because he had been there,” she explained. “And he knew education was very important to succeed in life.”
And how did Danforth feel about meeting his most recent goal?
“I’m proud I stuck with it,” he said. “It’s given me a sense of security. With this degree, I know I can quickly transition into a different job in a different field if need be.”