DALLAS - Linda Barrett Ray recently celebrated 30 years of working for Gaston College.
According to college spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett, Linda was among the staffers recognized at a recent appreciation lunch held for Gaston College employees.
A native of Gastonia, Linda is the youngest of 11 children. She started working without finishing high school and found jobs that paid fairly well. But she always thought she could do better, as Pickett informed.
Then a newspaper advertisement caught Linda’s eye. It advertised how those without their high school diplomas could earn their GED’s (general educational development; formerly general equivalency diplomas, a certification equal to a high school diploma) in just eight weeks at Gaston College. With her husband’s encouragement, she made an appointment to take the placement test, and she subsequently enrolled in the GED program. She began taking classes in the summer of 1989, after having been out of school for 18 years.
The classes she took were taught by Joyce Dale, Melva Huffstetler and Gwen Feemster.
“They were the driving force and always encouraged their students to do their best,” said Linda. “I was encouraged by these ladies to finish the classes early and enroll in some college classes that fall semester. They saw potential in me.”
Linda was also recommended to be a work-study student in the receiving department at the college. And although she felt out of her comfort zone, she decided to give it her best try.
For her first quarter as a college student, Linda was enrolled in business math, keyboarding and shorthand. She passed all her classes but wasn’t sure if college was right for her.
“My husband encouraged me to continue,” she said. “I told him I would, if he would continue the classes he had started at Gaston College many years earlier.”
Her husband agreed to go back to school. And the two of them, after just a year of marriage, began a “very long, stressful but fulfilling journey,” as Linda noted.
Both worked during the day and took classes four nights a week. They urged each other to stay focused and on track with their classes.
For their support, Linda extended her thanks to the teachers who helped make her education journey complete. Information technology instructor Jimmy Warren assigned her to give an oral presentation, about which she was reluctant.
“I was not a public speaker,” she said. “I had a solid ‘A’ in his class, and when I asked him how that grade would be affected if I didn’t do the presentation, he said I would get a ‘B.’ I told him he could not have my ‘A.’ I made the presentation.”
Dr. Mark Shellman, now the chairman of the information technology department, came to Linda’s assistance when he saw she was struggling with an advanced programming class. Her counselor had mistakenly enrolled her at the advanced level rather than the basic, and Shellman interceded to get her into the right class.
A medical transcription class that Linda needed for graduation was available only during the day, which would have required her to miss work. Although she was not her student, Lynn Nichols, now the associate dean of health and human services, arranged for her to take the class as an independent study.
“I am proud to say that all the hard work and persistence paid off,” Linda observed. “I received my associate of applied science degree in administrative office technology in 1994. I’m even prouder to say that not only did I receive my AAS in medical office technology, but also my husband earned the diploma he had started years earlier. We both walked across the (graduation ceremony) stage in 1995. My parents were there to see us graduate. And our marriage survived. We celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary in January.”
Linda was the second member of her family to earn a GED, and the first to go to college. She is now the co-ordinator of shipping and receiving, the department where she started as a work-study student in 1989.
Linda is also very active in supporting various student and campus activities, including the student government association, the TRiO support services program, Gaston LINKS and the college radio station, WSGE 91.7-FM.
“Every journey begins with one step,” she said. “That one step I took completely changed my life. Someone saw potential in me and encouraged me to tap into that potential. I am still continuing that journey. I am truly Gaston College-proud!”
More about the Gaston College high school equivalency program
Gaston College’s high school equivalency program, formerly the GED program, prepares students for the tests required to earn a high school equivalency diploma.
There are two parts to this program: adult basic education and high school equivalency. Gaston College offers day and evening classes at the Dallas and Lincoln campuses. All classes are free.
To learn more, check out the Website at www.gaston.edu/high-school-equivalency.