MORROW, Ga—If there was one word to describe Dennis Sutherland it would have to be “determined”. The recent Clayton State University graduate walked across the stage Saturday, December 12, to receive his degree in Business Management with a minor in Supply Chain Management, but what makes his story different is how he pushed through several obstacles to make his dream a reality.
Sutherland, a 60-year-old immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica, moved to the U.S. in 2009, and four years ago, he decided to enroll at Clayton State as a full-time student while also working full-time at a grocery store.
“I have 15 grandkids. One of my objectives was to be an example for them,” says Sutherland. “I taught English and Math in Jamaica for 15 years, and I believe my exposure in education was the driving force for me to go into the educational system and elevate myself here.”
However, earning his degree while also working a full-time job was no easy feat for this tenacious grandfather. Sutherland says he really had to make studying a priority.
“During my break time I would study. I took my books to work with me every day, and after coming home, I would have another study session.”
The recent grad credits a tough moment in an accounting class for lighting a fire inside him to keep pressing forward.
“The accounting professor showed us some stats on people who were successful. One of the alarming figures showed that almost 90 percent of students who worked full-time while also enrolled in school full-time failed. I told myself I was going to be in the 10 percent that would be successful.”
Sutherland added, “Once I set a goal, I really want to achieve it. Each morning when I wake up there’s this fire inside of me.”
Four long years later, his efforts paid off, and his dream came true as he walked across the stage to the cheering voices of his friends and family.
“The sudden rush of being in the moment was so overwhelming. It was just one of those things you’ve always dreamed of—wanting to do well and to have family and friends join in and sharing in that. It was a tremendous experience.”
Colleen Walters, an instructor at Clayton State’s School of Nursing, is Sutherland’s daughter and one of the reasons he enrolled. She says she's grateful for his business professors who supported and encouraged her father along the way.
“I hope that my dad's story will inspire others to persevere in order to achieve their dream of higher education regardless of race, age, socioeconomic status, or country of origin,” says Walters.
To anyone older than a “traditional” student with dreams of going to school, Sutherland has this advice, “I thought I was the oldest person on campus initially, but during my first semester I realized I was so wrong. There are some people much older. Age is just a number. I would encourage anyone to pursue an education”.