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'All of it is worth it': RCTC student set to graduate two decades after dropping out of high school

Kelly Foley will graduate Thursday evening, May 12, 2022, from the dental hygiene program with a 4.0 GPA.

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Kelly Foley poses on the campus of Rochester Community and Technical College Thursday, May 12, 2022.
Abby Sharpe / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — By the time Kelly Foley graduates Thursday evening, May 12, 2022, it will have been 20 years since she dropped out of high school and four years since she began her college journey at Rochester Community and Technical College.

The Rochester native never imagined being in this position 20 years ago.

“Twenty years ago, I dropped out of school so that I could use drugs,” Foley said. “This is something that was this idea in the back of my mind that I would have liked, but 20 years ago, this wasn't a possibility. At all.”

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Now, the 36-year-old is set to receive her diploma after completing the competitive dental hygiene program at RCTC – with a 4.0 grade point average.

It was unquestionably a journey for Foley to get to this point. She had to complete remedial courses before beginning her general education courses at RCTC at 32. Besides the classwork, Foley also had to juggle being a single mother of three kids, who are now ages 8, 15 and 17, and working at a coffee shop.

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RCTC has a cap of admitting 16 students to the dental hygiene program per year, so when Foley was accepted, it was a very exciting moment for her. It also reinforced the journey she was on.

“I never really thought that I would be able to really do anything with my life because I was an alcoholic,” Foley said. “But when I finally stopped drinking and got sober, I thought that it was time that I tried to do something better with my life.”

And she knows she made the right choice for her and her family.

“We have a lot of really cool classes, and it’s a really good program to be in,” Foley said. “I definitely chose the right path.”

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Kelly Foley poses in front of the RCTC letters on campus Thursday, May 12, 2022.
Abby Sharpe / Post Bulletin

Her kids have spent the last four years watching her work hard and dedicate herself to her schoolwork.

“They did this with me. They got to see me staying up late and cramming before finals and crying over tests,” Foley said, laughing. “They were with me every step of the way.”

She hopes she impressed on her kids the importance of going to school and sticking with it. But Foley also hopes other single mothers know that going back to school can be done, despite the juggling act that comes with it.

“It's worth it. All of it is worth it,” she said. “It's definitely not an easy path, and there are sacrifices that have to be made along the way. But if you're determined to make a better life for your family, you can do it. You’ve just got to commit to it.”

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Foley is now ready to close this chapter of her life and start her next journey.

“It's scary to know that this is like the beginning of the next chapter, but it's exciting,” she said. “It's a different set of nerves kicking in this time.”

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. While at ASU, she created short- and long-form stories for audio and digital. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or asharpe@postbulletin.com.
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