At 35 years old, Angie Bennett will walk across the stage on Saturday and receive her associate’s degree in legal assisting from Patrick Henry Community College.
“No matter how late you start, you can do it,” she said.
And to show you that's correct, she will have personal evidence right along side.
Her father, Brandon “John” Hines, will also be in a cap and gown, ready to accept an associate’s degree and two certificates in information technology at age 59.
The two didn’t plan to go to college together, al though both dreamed of attaining a higher education.
Bennett started taking online classes in 2011, but balancing motherhood, full-time employment as a medical assistant at Piedmont Urology and college coursework wasn’t easy. She knew it wasn’t likely that she’d finish her degree in two years, but she didn’t let that stop her from accomplishing her goal.
“Even if I could only do one class a semester, I did it,” Bennett said.
She studied during lunch breaks. She carted her textbooks to her children’s soccer practices. She read after tucking her kids in bed.
“I wanted to better myself,” Bennett said.
She also wanted to set a good example for all six of her kids.
“I was determined, so I did it,” Bennett said. “The biggest accomplishment to me is that my kids will see that I never gave up.”
Likewise, Bennett’s father also never gave up — even after he received a diagnosis of having multiple sclerosis.
“I wanted to beat the disease and not let the disease beat me,” Hines said. “That prompted my college career.”
Forced to quit his full-time job at Sara Lee because of the disease, Hines said he refused to sit around his house day in and day out. Interested in computer sciences, he signed up for classes at PHCC.
When he told Bennett of his plan to return to school, the news initially surprised her.
“I was shocked at first,” Bennett said. “But I was very happy and excited.”
Suddenly, the father and daughter found themselves in college at the same time, even though they were 24 years apart in age.
They took different classes in different formats, but that didn’t stop the two students from relating to one another.
“We called each other all the time, several times a week,” Bennett said. “We’d ask how things were going.”
Dealing with coursework on top of battling multiple sclerosis, Hines could’ve made endless excuses about the difficulty he faced, but he didn’t. Instead, he overcame obstacles as they arose.
“Having to deal with multiple sclerosis pushed me to the limit, as far as doing things goes,” Hines said. “I deal with it the best I can.”
One obstacle occurred when Hines needed to get around campus efficiently.
Instead of walking with crutches as he does in his everyday life, he used a wheelchair to get to classes. The adjustment often brought out the kindness of other students, he said, as they regularly opened doors and helped Hines with his books.
“I go to school with a bunch of teenagers,” Hines said. “Some of them will go out of their way to assist you with what you’re doing.”
On the days when things seemed especially difficult, Hines said he pulled strength from the Bible, specifically Matthew 17:20. In that verse, Jesus explains to the disciples that if they have the faith of a mustard seed, they can move mountains.
“That really inspired me because a mustard seed is so small,” Hines said. “It’s taught me to believe in yourself. Believe God can guide you. Believe God can heal you.”
Keeping his degree in mind, Hines continued to push himself, both physically and academically.
“It was just a drive. I wanted to show my children that their dad wasn’t going to sit around and be still,” Hines said. “It was a drive to keep going and make my children proud.”
Hines not only completed his coursework, but he did so with impressive grades. Hines twice made the college’s dean’s list, an academic accomplishment similar to an honor roll in grade school.
When Hines’s children learned of their father’s academic success, they expressed their delight.
“My daughter said, ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you.’ My son said, ‘I’m so proud of you,’” Hines said.
With graduation now in sight, both Hines and Bennett said they look forward to what their futures hold.
“I’m excited about it because I know I’ll have that degree,” Hines said. “It helps me move forward.”
Said Bennett of graduating: “It feels amazing. I can’t stop smiling. I’m so proud of myself.”
Both plan to continue their educations and strive for bachelor’s degrees. Hines also said he looks forward to opening a technology service center in the Martinsville area in the future.
For others considering pursuing a college degree, both Bennett and Hines had the same advice — start.
“If you are in high school, go straight from high school. Don’t take a year off. Go. Your career is the most important thing. That’s what’s going to give you your independence,” Bennett said. “If you’re older, it’s never too late to start.”
Said Hines: “Continue to push. No matter the obstacles, it’s worth all the time you spent.”