Gwendolyn Green was nervous.

Standing before a crowd of about 50 other women, she gripped the podium and bowed her head. Tears streaked her face.

“I can be what I want to be,” she said quietly. “I won’t let the past dictate my future.”

For 16 years Green has been sober. And now, at age 56, she has earned a college degree from Central Piedmont Community College.

Green was one of six “nontraditional” women graduates honored last week by WECS, or Women Executives for Community Service.

Through its WINGS program — Women Initiating and Nurturing Growth through Scholarships — the group has given more than $200,000 in scholarships since 1995 to women 25 and older. Many were the first in their families to attend college.

Green, who returned to school at age 52, had not sat in a classroom for 35 years when she decided to pursue a GED at Central Piedmont Community College. But when she went there to apply, someone suggested college as well.

“College?,” she recalled thinking. “I’m just trying to get a GED.”

Green said her husband also encouraged her to pursue a college degree. That meant taking five or six buses every day to attend class.

Green now gives speeches and conducts substance abuse workshops in Charleston, S.C. She plans to pursue another degree at Queens University.

Susan Jetton, assigned to be Green’s WINGS mentor, said at first she didn’t believe she had the time to mentor another woman. But after watching Green juggle school, work, church and volunteer activities, she said, “I learned so much more from Gwen than what I taught her.”

Cheryl Kirkman’s story is different. She joined the military after high school and received an associate’s degree in Virginia. She moved to Charlotte five years ago. This year she graduated magna cum laude from Johnson C. Smith University with a degree in business administration.

“I decided it was time to go back and keep pursuing my education,” she said. “I didn’t think it was a choice; I just had to do it.”

Kirkman said she is working on a master’s degree at the University of Phoenix and wants to mentor and motivate young people.

Other WING graduates were:

  • Rhonda Huthmacher, UNC Charlotte
  • Katrina Kerr, UNC Charlotte
  • Regina Watson, Queens University

Women interested in applying for a WINGS scholarship must attend one of the four partnering schools, be at least 25 and have financial need.

For more information, contact your school’s financial aid office or visit

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