Wanda Smith went back to college at 37 to earn her bachelor's degree, qualifying her to become a teacher.
Wanda Smith is an inspiration who exemplifies that perseverance will get you far in life. Smith had always wanted to be a teacher. But she had to put these plans on hold because she had to take care of her ailing mother. After graduating high school she had to put her dreams on hold to provide for her family. She worked at an ice cream parlor and later, went on to hold a job as a bus monitor and custodian at Brenham Elementary School, reported ABC 7. This would be the same school where, after qualifying to become a teacher, she would lead a class. But the journey was anything but easy.
Proving that it is never too late to pursue your dreams, Smith is now a teacher at the same school she worked in as a custodian. But the journey took nearly a decade and despite all the hurdles that found their way to Smith's path, she overcame them to stand where she does today. She went back to school and enrolled in a college course at the age of 37 to complete her bachelor's degree. In 2010, she was certified to become a teacher. "When I stand in front of my classroom, I am living my dream," she told TODAY. Her hard work paid off.
Smith had a jam-packed schedule that sometimes led to sleepless nights. She started off her day at six in the morning when she worked as a bus monitor. Then from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., she worked as a custodian. "And sometimes I didn't get to sleep because if mom needed to go to the doctor, I'd just get off and do what I had to do," she explained. "And I never really thought about it. I just did it because it had to be done." In addition to the long working days, she decided to go back to college with the encouragement of her husband. She joined Blinn College, a junior college in Brenham, in 2004 to get her associate's degree and then enrolled at Sam Houston State a year later.
"I was totally nervous because all of the children in there, they were children, and sometimes I was older than the professor," Smith said. If things weren't already hard for her, she was also a mother to three children and also tragically lost not only her mother but even her sisters during her days at university. With all the pressures she faced, she nearly gave up on her degree and tried to quit multiple times. "I was so happy to tell them that I was going back to school," she recalled. "They were so proud of me. My sister would be the one I would talk to at night when I was coming home. Then when I lost her, that took a lot out of me. It took a lot out. And yes, I did want to stop."
But her husband was there for her, to calm her down and let her know that she wasn't the only one who made sacrifices. With his support, she knew she could do it and keep going. With hard work and determination, she finally graduated from Sam Houston State with her diploma in 2010. "I mean, somebody growing up in the projects that people counted out, I got a diploma," she said. "Not only did I get a diploma, but I also got a bachelor's degree." If anything, she was meant to be a teacher as testified by her colleagues and students. Her dedication has even been recognized and she was even surprised by Dr. Alisa White, the president of Sam Houston State, with a $500 scholarship in her name.
The Wanda Smith Make a Difference Scholarship will go to a first-generation Sam Houston State student who wants to pursue a career in teaching. Smith even had May 4 dedicated in her honor by Brenham mayor Milton Tate Jr. as "Be the Best You Can Be" Wanda Smith Day. Brenham Elementary School principal Kim Rocka said, "Wanda Smith is the portrait of an American teacher. She’s such an inspiration to us all." She has been a pillar of strength for her students during the pandemic as well.