SMITHFIELD – Though both Kathy and Jason Greenwood work for Fortune 500 companies, they both always had a nagging feeling in the back of their mind that not having a college degree was holding them back.
That changed this month when the couple graduated from Southern New Hampshire University and were co-speakers at a commencement ceremony.
Kathy, originally from Pawtucket, said neither had a college degree before now, though there were attempts made. Kathy, 54, who graduated SNHU with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, said she dropped out of high school and got her GED. She wanted to attend college, but then, she said, life happened. In the meantime, Kathy was successful in the IT field over the years.
“You know kids, I got married. I couldn’t afford school. There was always a reason,” Kathy said, adding that neither she nor her husband are slouches.
Kathy said when deciding to go into anthropology, she felt it was time to learn more about something she’s passionate about. She said she was previously passed over for a promotion due to not having a degree.
“I thought, this stupid piece of paper is holding me back from progressing,” Kathy said.
Jason, 52 and originally from Smithfield, was successful in his data engineer position at Johnson & Johnson. He worked his way up but said when it came to promotions or job interviews, he always felt a small level of panic that he would be called out for not having a degree.
“I decided earn it, I’m going back and getting my degree,” Jason said, adding that his degree is in data analytics.
The degree complements his data engineer position in a similar way that gathering food ingredients would benefit a chef, he said.
Jason applied to SNHU about three years ago. Kathy soon after. The pair both worked full-time, working from home during COVID and doing schoolwork at night.
“We’d work all day and then switch right over to schoolwork at night,” Kathy said.
The pair married in 2000, a second marriage for both. They moved to Smithfield 11 years ago.
While studying, Kathy would listen to her husband’s IT work while he would listen to her philosophy lectures. Later, on evening walks with the dogs, the two would discuss their studies.
“We’re a married couple that loves each other and doesn’t mind spending time together. The whole thing was really fulfilling,” Kathy said.
As for the commencement speech, Kathy and Jason both applied separately to SNHU to do the speech, and when they made it to the second round of applications, they decided to apply together.
Both shared speaking moments, Jason said, as the first-ever co-student speaker and first husband and wife combination.
“It was not the typical graduation,” Kathy said.
Kathy said the pair may be “kind of masochistic,” as they are now formulating plans to go back for master’s degrees. They are considering getting teaching degrees to teach online at a college level while traveling the country.
“We could come full circle,” Jason said.
The pair said they would wait at least a year before returning to school, and are enjoying the free time they have now.
“We want to go out and see the world. We’re both working remotely, why not?” Jason said.
Kathy and Jason both have children from their previous marriages, four total, and those children are “ridiculously proud” of their parents’ college degrees.
“To be where we are now, and go back to do this, they are very, very proud of us. It chokes me up a little bit,” Kathy said.
For others considering returning to school, Kathy said you are never too old.
“If you tried it and it didn’t happen, at least you tried,” Jason said. “If you try and succeed, then now you have it,” Jason said.