‘It’s not in how a man falls. It’s in how he gets up.’
80-year-old student offers encouragement to persist, even when challenged the most.

Spend just a few minutes talking with Joan Zeigler, and you’ll soon realize exactly why she is a source of inspiration to so many.

Active in her Greensboro, N.C., community, Joan teaches Sunday school, plays three instruments as a church musician, and is a full-time care taker for her son, who is paralyzed on one side, seriously ill and bedridden. Raised by her aunt, who was a school teacher, Joan has always valued the importance of education. She said that “things happen in life,” though, and earning a college education was put on the back burner. After earning her high school diploma, she got married and had kids – lots of them. Today, she is a proud great grandmother, with six sons, two daughters, 22 grandkids and 27 great grandkids.

Joan has seen more than her share of trials and tribulations throughout her 80 years – but exudes an overwhelming sense of positivity that reminds you that there is nothing standing in the way of success, other than yourself. When she was 77, she took on pursuing her lifelong dream of a college degree, and three years later will soon be graduating with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

A Role Model
“My kids and family – they’re all very important to me,” said Joan. “And I’m showing them, that anything you want to do, you can do it. As long as you stay as focused as possible, there will be a way that will be open to you – if you choose to go there.”

In terms of making sacrifices to focus on education, Joan said: “You have to learn how to overcome. Stay positive and keep on going. I have tried to teach my kids to associate with others on a higher level. If they can do it, so can you.  Just do the right thing, like getting more knowledge or helping someone else, as much as possible.”

Joan’s strong beliefs in standing up for what is “good and right” and taking ownership of your own actions are front and center for anyone within her circle of family and friends. Her son, in fact, took to heart his mom’s determination to earn her degree, and enrolled at Grantham.  “He said, ‘Mom, if you can stay in it three years, I can, too’. He’s there with me mentally. We inspire each other.”

“I’ve taught all my kids that, in this world, you have to be knowledgeable about something. And you have to work at it, because no one’s going to do it for you. There are some things you might have to give up as you go along – like freedom to go do other things. But be patient and rise above. Get your education,” she said.

Govern Yourself
Joan’s life is full, completely devoted to the family and church she treasures. So why a degree, and why now?

“Getting older, you realize you need to do something positive for your own self. And I did by coming to Grantham,” said Joan.  “I’ve always wanted to know more about the law and different cultures, and I’ve enjoyed every class I’ve had.  Getting my education has built me up, and I thank God my timing was just right.”

For Joan, backing down from a challenge – even when it seems impossible – is not ever part of the plan. “Once you stop, you get entangled with other stuff that can bring you down. So, do right. Govern yourself … and keep it moving,” she said. “If you keep yourself together, that’s all that matters.”

Keep Pushing Forward
Joan admits that there have been times when she was discouraged with completing assignments on time in the midst of an already full plate, caring for her son. But she has leaned on her faith and the encouragement of her student advisor, instructors, family and church family to keep her moving forward.

“I would tell anyone who starts to feel down, to have faith in yourself (and the Man with the plan), and keep pushing,” she said. “I remember when I first started, I failed a course – and cried. I was low, but I maintained and kept on going. And when my son became deathly sick, it was bad. It threw the family for a loop and I had to pick up the pieces. I was emotional and it took a toll on me. I couldn’t focus and study like I had been doing. But I got my flow together and here I am. I’m going to make my goal of graduation.”

As she finishes her last two Grantham courses, Joan advises, “Stay encouraged, and encourage someone else. It’s our choices in life – good and bad – that make us who we are. We all make mistakes, and sometimes don’t learn the bigger lessons until later in life. Just don’t feed on negative energy. It’s not in how a man falls. It’s in how he gets up.”

For more inspiration and motivation check out these persistence stories.

About The Author

Brandon Swenson, communications manager, is on Grantham University’s editorial board. A veteran and college graduate himself, he understands the benefits and intricacies of government education programs, such as the post-9/11 GI Bill. Brandon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City toward the end of his nearly two-decade tour in the United States Marine Corps.