by Kody Jon Klein, Published August 29, 2012
When Valerie Eby graduated from high school in 1980, she wanted to become an architect. She enrolled at Monroe Community College and planned to eventually transfer to a university. However, by the fall of her sophomore year, she had given birth to her and her husband Thomas' first daughter. Setting the baby as her highest priority, Eby dropped out of school to be a stay-at-home mom.
Three decades later, Eby, who is back in school pursuing her bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University, has won the Ken Peterson Award from Foresters, a life insurance company based out of Toronto. The $5,000 scholarship was given to Eby for her dedication to her community.
After having five children of her own, Eby opened her home to children who didn't have one. Since 1999, she's become the proud mother of five adopted children.
Prior to their adoption, these children's futures were bleak, the odds stacked heavily against their success in life. Now, they have a home and parents who care deeply about them. What's more, Eby's astounding parenting skills have helped her adopted children excel academically. Most of them perform several grade levels above their peers.
"Your job as a parent is, to the best of your ability, prepare your children to participate in the rest of the world," she said. "There's a great deal of reward in seeing them use the skills you've taught them."
Given her overwhelming dedication to motherhood, it seems crazy for Eby to come back to school. Despite her initial inclination to do so, she almost didn't come back at all. Shortly after she made the decision to return, her neuropsychologist told her that a severe blow to her head from the early 90's and over two decades of chronic migraines irreparably damaged her brain. The result impaired her ability to process sounds through her right ear and caused short-term memory loss.
"I said to my neuro-doctor, 'This really frustrates me because I was going to go back to school,' and she said, 'I think you should,'" Eby said.
Continuing her education was an uphill battle for Eby, but she said the environment at EMU has greatly aided her success. Where she may feel socially marginalized at other schools for being a 50-year-old sophomore, she said she fits right in at EMU.
"There are no boundaries because it's so diversified," Eby said. "I think some one coming here who is not the typical 18-year-old student, they fit in better because there's not a majority of one kind or another. The population is so diverse. Regardless of your status as a student, whether you're coming back at my age, you don't feel like you stand out. There are so many different people."
One obstacle she hadn't anticipated was how dramatically the academic world had evolved in the 30 years she spent away from it.
"I had to learn how to use laptops," Eby said. "When I was in school, laptops didn't exist! When we turned in papers they were written in pen or pencil and you just turned them in. I didn't even have a typewriter."
She seems to have figured it out pretty quickly though. Now she even works at EMU's writing center and thoroughly enjoys it.
"I love it!" she said. "It's very neat to watch the progression of people's writing and you can see how much they've improved."