After years of working as a custodian, bus driver and day care operator, a Des Moines woman will fulfill a longtime dream by graduating Sunday from Drake University. Genea McMillion is 58-years-old and has been taking a few classes a semester at Drake for the past 16 years. She wants to be a history teacher, a goal she should be able to finally realize next fall when she starts student-teaching.
McMillion says: "I always wanted to be a school teacher and then when I drove buses for Des Moines Public Schools, I found out that the kids on the buses didn’t know a lot about their history or any history, for that matter. I didn’t like history when I was in school but once I got grown, I knew the importance of it. I said, ‘I can do this,’ and that’s how I got started."
McMillion says she’s overcome a host of challenges to earn her bachelor’s degree from Drake, including difficulties with money and with illnesses. There’s also the fact she’s some 35 or 40 years older than many of her classmates. "A couple of classes I was in, yeah, I was the oldest person there, and then a couple classes, the professor and I were the oldest," McMillion says. "It is different when you go in the daytime to the college because all of the kids could be my children — or my grandchildren. It worked out good. I had a lot of study groups and met a lot of fine kids there who were always willing to help me and the professors were, too."
McMillion started at Drake in 1992 after earning an associate’s degree from Des Moines Area Community College. She attended morning and afternoon classes while working as a custodian at Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School from 3 P.M. to midnight. To other Iowans who want to change their lives, no matter what the age, McMillion says set your sights and go.
"Don’t give up, no matter what people say. Sometimes you will feel a little awkward when you’re in special groups, studying for something, and you’re the oldest one there, but lots of times, they look up to you because they feel you have the experience," McMillion says. "Don’t give up and don’t give in. Just keep on keepin’ on. Believe in yourself. Say a prayer. Whatever it takes. You will get through it. I’m living proof of it." McMillion is the first of her mother’s children to finish college.