A woman with a cap and gown poses with Augustus statue on a college campus
Photo by Michael Holahan

A graduation 30 years in the making

Walking across the stage to graduate from college is a major accomplishment for anyone. It takes years of hard work, dedication and sometimes some tears.

For Paige Boutwell, a mother of seven, her journey to this moment has been three decades in the making.

Boutwell was attending then Augusta College in 1994 when life happened. She was finishing up her sophomore year, was married and was an expectant mother. As she was preparing for finals, she went into labor at 24 weeks.

Instead of being in the classroom, she was in the hospital for a week and then put on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy and she was never able to take her finals as her daughter, Raleigh Hornung, was welcomed into the world.

Boutwell said she always wanted to be a mom and a good wife, so that became the priority, and college took a back seat. Over the next few years, she welcomed a few more kids into the family, so the thought of finishing up her degree dropped further off the radar.

Six women and a teenage girl all in dresses pose in a church a mom bottlefeeding her newborn baby
Paige Boutwell (center) with her family including newborn Raleigh

In the back of her mind, she always wanted to finish up her degree. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, she was determined to do just that.

“It’s always sort of bothered me that I didn’t finish,” said Boutwell. “It was almost an embarrassment that I didn’t finish because everyone in my family is well educated, and I didn’t finish, so I just felt like I needed to go back.”

Her two oldest daughters, Hornung and Christina Boutwell, are already Augusta University graduates. Hornung received a degree in health information management while Christina earned her degree in respiratory therapy. They, along with the entire family, have been very supportive of their mother’s decision to go back and finish up what she started.

A large gathering of people celebrate a college graduation
Paige Boutwell’s family celebrates her daughter,
Christina Boutwell’s graduation from Augusta University

“I was excited,” said Hornburg. “I would never tell someone maybe they shouldn’t. Age doesn’t matter and your status of whatever you’re doing – it just doesn’t matter. If you feel like you need to be more educated and you want to learn, more power to you.”

Boutwell was put in touch with William Hatcher, PhD, chair of the Social Sciences Department in Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the process of getting re-enrolled at AU was underway.

She had originally pursued a degree in early childhood education but switched to sociology upon her return to college. She works full-time at Augusta Christian Schools where she’s a resource learning support assistant. Had she continued in education, she wouldn’t have been able to do her student-teaching while working full time.

“There are several different emotions. Part of it, and I know that a degree doesn’t complete somebody, but for me, it does kind of complete that chapter of my life that’s been unfinished for so long. I will feel more complete because I just have that insecurity. I’m just getting to the punctuation mark.”

Paige Boutwell

Hatcher helped get her back on track and did everything he could make it work out.

“That’s what we try to do for returning students with our degrees in social sciences,” said Hatcher.

Part of that was being able to offer courses asynchronously so Boutwell didn’t have to be in the classroom to finish up. She said that flexibility made the decision to return to AU an easy one.   

“It’s a really flexible degree, and we offer a number of online courses at the upper level to work with students,” added Hatcher.

A woman wearing a graduate robe poses for a photo outside.
[Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

“He was very helpful, and next thing you know I’m enrolled,” Boutwell said. “I jumped through all the hoops, I wrote letters, I decided on the two classes I was going to start with, and I was very nervous about being my age and being in the classroom. So I was relieved that I didn’t have to be in the classroom.”

Hatcher added that Boutwell also received a sociology scholarship for her classwork.

Despite being determined, she admits she struggled mentally with the degree itself. She said as a traditional conservative Christian, she questioned whether she would be able to get through some of the classes. One of them was a gender and society class with Melissa Powell-Williams, PhD, a professor in Pamplin College.

“It was not at all what I thought it would be,” said Boutwell. “It was very eye-opening. I appreciate my new perspective, and I haven’t given up my beliefs, but I do appreciate what I’ve learned, to allow me to see things from a different perspective and to appreciate all people and to recognize all people.”

“When she got to know a little bit more about really what the class was about, I think it allowed her to expand her views, not really changing it,” said Powell-Williams. “Because of her age and experience, she knows how to advocate for herself. She was very humble and conscientious, and that showed me that she’s just great. That’s how you grow – you grow from being humble, not arrogant, and I think that allows for her to succeed.”

It’s been a challenge to balance her studies with working full time and being a mom. She’s done a lot of her studies on the weekend and whenever she got a chance in the evenings. She jokes her youngest is probably ready for her to “make him supper again.”

A woman wearing a graduation robe and holding her mortarboard cap walks down a campus sidewalk, away from the camera while looking back over her shoulder
[Michael Holahan/Augusta University

Now, the entire family is looking forward to her walking across the stage on graduation day.

“I’m very excited to get to see her walk. Graduation for anyone is always a very exciting time because you know that someone had to work really hard to get to that point,” said Hornung.

“There are several different emotions,” said Boutwell. “Part of it, and I know that a degree doesn’t complete somebody, but for me, it does kind of complete that chapter of my life that’s been unfinished for so long. I will feel more complete because I just have that insecurity. I’m just getting to the punctuation mark.”

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Written by
Kevin Faigle

Kevin Faigle is Media Relations Specialist at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at kfaigle@augusta.edu.

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Avatar photo Written by Kevin Faigle

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