Destination education: 69-year-old graduates with summa cum laude honors

Mickey Peasley

Education has been the vehicle to a better life for Mickey Peasley. Last month, the soon-to-be 70-year-old earned her bachelor's degree in business from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. It's a journey that has spanned decades and is far from finished.

"Every time I went back to school, my life got better," said Peasley. "Every time I go back, it just gets better. So how do you stop? When do you stop?"

Peasley earned her first associate degree in 1977. The single mother of two became a licensed vocational nurse to provide a better life for her kids. In 1985, she went back to better her life again, this time becoming a registered nurse.

After decades living in California, she returned to Grant County, Wisconsin, to take care of her mother as she dealt with health issues.

"I have been a nurse for 40 years, and that means a lot of sacrifice in taking care of others," said Peasley. "I would do that at work and then come home and take care of my disabled son or my mother, or both."

In 2015, Peasley found herself in an unfamiliar position – living alone.

"For the first time in my life, I could do what I want instead of taking care of others. I wanted to do something for me," Peasley said

That's why she decided to earn the bachelor's degree she never had the time to pursue. She started the process by enrolling in classes at UW-Platteville Richland. However, education had changed greatly in the 30 years since she had last stepped foot in a classroom.

"In my first class, I didn't even know how to turn on the computer. I had to ask the student next to me how to do it."

Peasley faced quite the learning curve, but she had a support system to back her up. She credits her advisor Joanna Muller with keeping her spirits up and helping her navigate the challenges in front of her. 

"Joanna was my personal cheerleader," Peasley said. "She told me over and over again that I could do this."

Peasley also credits professor Marnie Dresser and IT specialist Marilyn Peckham with helping her navigate and understand the technology needed to reach her educational goals. She said that included working with her during lunch breaks or after hours to provide additional tutoring. Peasley also tapped into her thirst for knowledge by taking advantage of every adult computer class she could.

"I doubt I'll ever be an expert, but I'm not afraid of it anymore," Peasley boasts. "It's become my friend."

That friendship would continue. After earning her third associate degree from UW-Platteville Richland, Peasley decided to enroll in the 100% online Bachelor of Arts and Sciences program through UW-Platteville. She admits to being scared to move to a fully online program, but said it was a painless transition. She credits that to fantastic professor communication, saying she had the same level of interaction as an in-person class.

"I didn't feel distant," Peasley said. "I felt like they were there for me. I was not alone on an island in the middle of nowhere."

Peasley tapped into her curious and determined nature to excel in the online program. Last month, she graduated summa cum laude with a 3.95 GPA. Her desire to do her best was exemplified by her decision to skip her graduation ceremony. She instead used the weekend to study for a psychology final. 

"When you don't know if you can do something, and you do it, your level of self-efficacy raises so much higher than it was. You just say to yourself that I did it, and maybe I can do even more."

Peasley has decided to continue challenging herself. She is now pursuing an online master's degree in psychology from Northcentral University in San Deigo, California. She hopes to use the knowledge obtained from the graduate degree to work at a women's shelter or a local social services department. Until then, Peasley is exploring teaching opportunities, including Headstart and being a substitute at local schools.