Graduate Profile: Ben Byrd ‘22
By Jeremy Handel
SMC Online Student Earns Degree After 45-year Hiatus
A college degree is an important accomplishment for many people. For some, that milestone is derailed when life gets in the way. For Ben Byrd, having to stop pursuing his degree more than 45 years ago could have been a roadblock, but he was determined to make it just a speed bump.
“I had a dream before I ever decided to go back that I had graduated from Spartanburg Methodist,” Byrd said of his return to college. That dream and his wife LaVerne’s support convinced him that finishing his degree was important to him and what he really wanted to do.
Byrd’s journey started in 1975 when he enrolled at Spartanburg Methodist College (SMC) to pursue his associate degree right out of high school. After his first semester, circumstances forced him to drop out and head into the workforce. Using the skills he learned in his vocational high school, Byrd pursued a career in welding, and eventually moved up the ladder to coordinating the entire shop, but he never lost the desire to finish his degree.
“It was always in the back of my mind to go back and finish,” he said. Byrd even enrolled in night school to complete his course work, but with a family and a full-time job, it just didn’t work for him.
A few years ago, as he started approaching retirement, the topic of college came back up. His wife brought up the subject and encouraged him to revisit finishing his degree. Unaware of the dream Byrd had experienced about graduating, she helped fuel a fire that was already sparked.
“I told him he had gone too far to leave his degree on the table,” she said. “So, I encouraged him to, at least, reach out and see how many more classes he needed to finish.”
Byrd followed her advice and reached out to an old friend who worked at SMC to see what his options were. Steven Jeter, the tutor coordinator at SMC, worked with Byrd to determine he only had six more classes left to earn his associate degree. Two other factors helped make the decision easy for him: his employer offered 100 percent tuition reimbursement and SMC now offered online courses that provided the flexibility he needed in scheduling.
“School has really changed, and it took a while to make the transition,” Byrd said of attending classes online. “When I first went to SMC, there was no such thing as the internet. It was a little tough at first, but after I got going, got into the rhythm, and learned how it worked, I liked the online classes.”
And the transition went well, as Byrd achieved all A grades in his final six courses.
Byrd, after waiting more than four decades, walked across the commencement stage on May 7 and received his Associate in Arts degree from SMC President Scott Cochran.
While it may not be for the advancement of his career at this point, Byrd still says it was worth the effort and encourages others to do the same.
“If it’s at all possible, I think it would be to their benefit to go back and finish,” he said. “whether it’s for enhancing your career or for your own feeling of accomplishment.”
Following his success in earning his associate degree, Byrd has now decided to continue on to get his bachelor’s degree in business. His story also inspired the Spartanburg Academic Movement to invite him to share his story with an academic task force focused on higher education.