Many Paths, One Achievement: Graduation Stories

Fall 2022 Commencement Feature
Photographed: (top row, left-to-right) Mary Jean Hall, Freddy Ware, Brooklyn Barton; (bottom row, left-to-right) Jacob Zamorano, Baylee Harmon and Katlin Harmon.

Many of us have obstacles standing between us and our goals.

Mary Jean Hall isn’t the kind of person who just goes over or around those obstacles. She runs right through them.

The spunky 72-year old from Conway was among the graduates who received their degrees from Arkansas Tech University during fall commencement exercises at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.

“If I had a bucket list, this would’ve been on it,” said Hall. “You’re never too old to learn. That’s the thing. I might forget it tomorrow, but I learned it today. This is a lifetime achievement.”

Hall completed high school in 1968 and earned an associate degree in 2002, but it wasn’t until Friday night that she reached the plateau of bachelor’s degree graduate. And she received that Bachelor of Applied Science degree with honors.

“I picked Arkansas Tech because I heard it was a great university and I could take my classes online,” said Hall. “I used online tutoring and I went to our local literacy class tutors. They helped me, especially in math. Math is so much different now than it was when I was in high school.”

Freddy Ware became the first from his family to graduate from college. He completed ATU’s Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management. Ware said he never would have made it without the motivation and encouragement provided by Kyle Shipp, ATU head football coach.

“Coach Shipp was the first coach to ever get on my behind,” said Ware, who played on the Wonder Boys’ offensive line from 2019-22. “I needed to learn some responsibility and discipline. When I came here, he made sure I was okay and everything was okay. He took care of me and looked out for me. It was a big step up in the classroom. Eventually I got it through my head that I was too far in to mess up and give up, so I just kept going. There aren’t a lot of people who get this far where I’m from. I’m thankful for football, God and my family. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it this far. It opened up a door, and I took advantage of the opportunity that was given.”

Ware plans on working for Big River Steel in his home region in the Arkansas Delta. He will be employed as an environmental specialist.

“It’s five minutes where I’m from in Luxora,” said Ware. “It means a lot to me because I have a lot of pride in where I’m from. It’s a small place, but I’m from the real L.A. — Luxora, Arkansas. Every time I go back home, everybody is excited and happy that I got an education at a higher level.”

For Brooklyn Barton of Greenwood, ATU is a family tradition. Her grandparents, parents and siblings all attended Arkansas Tech.

“I really enjoyed learning topics that I wasn’t exposed to in high school and new perspectives,” said Barton, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with the biomedical option. “I’ve met so many different people. I think I’m more socially aware of diverse communities, and I’m really appreciative of that.”

Family was also a big part of the ATU experience for Baylee Harmon and Katlin Harmon. The twin sisters from Hagarville participated in their third shared college commencement ceremony.

“We’ve gone through three different programs together,” said Katlin Harmon. “We graduated LPN, RN and now our BSN program together. The faculty and staff made it really easy for us.”

The Harmon sisters plan on a break from further study, but they have their eyes on pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

Jacob Zamorano of Harlingen, Texas, received his Master of Science degree in emergency management and homeland security from ATU at the conclusion of the fall 2022 semester. Zamorano, who has volunteer experience with the American Red Cross, is open to career opportunities in the public and private sectors.

“I chose ATU because they have a very good rapport within the communities of Arkansas,” said Zamorano. “They’ve led students to paths of success in emergency management by working for organizations such as FEMA. They take real-world scenarios and implement them in the classroom. The faculty provided me with a lot of guidance, communication skills and leadership skills that I can implement in my career.”

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