After 16 years in retail, Terrance Gray was ready for a career change.
In high school, he had an interest in art but set it aside after graduating in 1994. But his love of art was passed on to his son who enrolled in art school in Chicago to study film and animation.
Watching his son complete his first year of college gave Terrance the push to go to school and study art himself.
“I just didn’t want to go back to a day-to-day job,” he says.
In August 2010, he enrolled at Black Hawk College to pursue an associate in arts degree. It meant Terrance was going to college at the same time as his son and studying a similar subject. Across the miles, it became a bonding experience.
“Going through that together was so funny,” he says. On the phone, they’d talk about teachers and homework assignments. When his son was home from college, they’d work on homework together.
“We went through it together,” he says. “We are closer because of that experience.”
Terrance also bonded with his classmates, who ranged from teenage to middle age.
“There’s no line between traditional and nontraditional students. You’re all students. You can learn things from each other,” he says.
And when Terrance began to struggle with depression, his classmates and his classes became an unexpected part of his treatment.
“The circle of people here … it’s a family. You just know that you’re not alone.”
In his English class, he wrote about his depression. He talked about it in speeches in his speech class.
“I put it into my schoolwork. You find out what others have been struggling with. It creates a bond,” he says.
“We have distractions every day in our lives. We can’t let it throw us off.”
The 38-year-old finished his classes in Spring 2013 with a 3.73 cumulative GPA. After he completes a math class this summer, he will have earned his associate degree and plans to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“I love it all – drawing in charcoal and pastel, painting and sculpting – but I really love to design things,” he says.
Eventually he hopes to work as a graphic designer or illustrator and complete a master of fine arts degree.
But none of it would be possible if he hadn’t made the decision to enroll at Black Hawk College.
“This was the best choice I ever made. I am so glad I didn’t go somewhere else,” he says.
Terrance has advice for anyone of any age who is thinking about going to college.
“Actually make the leap, go for it. You have nothing to lose, only something to gain.”