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Lorain artist, 47, will graduate LCCC with dream degree; 'You're never too old to go back to school'

"I was hesitant. I was nervous. I’m so much older than a lot of the students."
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Posted at 6:32 PM, May 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 06:56:06-04

LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — More than 2,000 students will graduate from Lorain County Community College on Saturday, and while for many graduates, getting the degree is an achievement, for Liz Guilkey it is a feat she thought she would never accomplish.

At 47 years old, Liz is a first-generation graduate and will receive an associate of arts degree with honors.

Her path to walk across that stage may not have been conventional, but it was colorful.

Liz has loved art from a young age.

"It really helps me cope,” she said. “It speaks without speaking.”

She was self-taught but always craving more — craving a way to turn her love into a livelihood.

“When I went to the art shows, I noticed that the ones who did go to college, who did get a degree, their art was so much better. There was so much thought in it,” she said. “Though I was self-taught, you can only teach yourself so much, and then you need the help of an expert.”

She said she always wanted to further her art education, but life got in the way.

“My mother died my senior year, so I couldn’t go to college. I had to take care of my dad and my siblings,” she noted.

She thought about it after she married her love, George, too, but then her father got sick.

Liz lost her job during the pandemic and George said it was a blessing in disguise.

“She really had the opportunity to slow down and take some time and look at her life. We evaluated things and decided that it was best for us to go back to school,” he said.

The two enrolled at Lorain Community College, George pursuing physics and math and supporting them with his full-time job, and Liz focused on art.

“He kind of dragged me to do it. I was hesitant. I was nervous. I’m so much older than a lot of the students,” she noted. “But I felt like it was my time.”

It was a two-year degree, and Liz stayed the course, even through the worst time of their lives. George fell ill at the beginning of Liz’s last semester.

“It finally it got to the point where he couldn’t walk at all and he couldn’t breathe, so we took him to the emergency room and that’s where we found out he had heart failure,” she said.

George’s heart was working at just 15% of its capacity. In between taking care of him and bringing him to and from doctor’s appointments, she continued to complete her schoolwork.

“She, literally, sat at my bedside the whole time when she wasn’t at home doing homework,” said George.

She completed most of her last semester at home.

“I really wanted to graduate on time, but he needed me, so the teachers were fantastic; they worked with me,” said Liz.

As George recovered and Liz neared the finish line of her degree, her confidence and pride in herself began to grow, too.

“I deserve to pat myself on the back a little bit. I’m very proud I’ve made it through this,” she said. “The validation that ‘yeah, I am good. I can do this. I can make something of this' — it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Her advice to anyone who says it’s too late to pursue your dreams? Go for it.

“I had so much hesitation going back to school, but I believe you’re never too old to go back to school. What do you have to lose? I have a saying through all of this, be brave, be bold and have fun,” said Liz.

She will be headed to the Cleveland Institute of Art in the fall and has received a scholarship and grant to help cover the cost of tuition.

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