La Plata, MD- Charles County resident Karen Gross said she remembers over the years reading the stories in local newspapers at each semester’s end about the various College of Southern Maryland (CSM) graduates who went to college to transition their careers – but she never thought she’d be among the students who share their personal story.
“I used to read about the youngest graduate, and oldest graduate and other stories about people of all ages overcoming adversity or making changes,” she shared. “They inspired me.”
Today, the 59-year-old, 14-year military veteran was a participant in CSM’s 62nd Spring Commencement exercises and moved her tassel in a virtual graduation event to signify her earning an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing.
Gross came to Maryland from New York by way of the Navy after being stationed at the Washington Navy Yard. She and her family made Charles County their home where she raised her three children after she was honorably discharged.
“For years, I was a stay-at-home mom, and I only took jobs that allowed me to be home and primarily be a parent because we didn’t have family to help us in the area,” she said.
Gross said she decided to attend CSM in 2015, with the intent of applying for the nursing program, but thought at that time she was ‘too old.’ She enrolled in CSM’s Health Information Management (HIM) program instead. While in the midst of her program, in 2017, she attended her daughter’s graduation from nursing school in North Carolina from where her daughter went on to become an ICU nurse.
“My mom is a retired nurse,” she explained of the family tradition. “When I was little, I used to watch her put on her white uniform from head to toe: Everything – the white cap, the white shoes. I have always had that picture of her in my head.”
Gross petitioned to the CSM nursing program, in 2018, after receiving her HIM degree and now two years later, affirms the adages that “timing is everything” and “all things happen for a reason.”
“This season in my life helped put me here, right now, with the best people in my corner,” Gross said. “In the course of the past two years, I’ve gotten divorced. I had to move recently. There was a pandemic and I was in nursing school all at the same time. I have met some of the best people right here at CSM. A few of my professors and advisors that I have had over the years, and my fellow classmates – they are some of the best young people I’ve ever been around– I wouldn’t have made it without them.
“It has been really incredible,” she added. “They have supported me, encouraged me, and brought me through this journey. My family, friends, classmates, and staff members that I’ve become close to, have also prayed with me. It wasn’t easy by a long shot. But we made it through.”
Gross has already spoken with a recruiter and isn’t sure yet what the future holds, but she said she hopes to pursue a career in oncology or women’s health.
“It took me a while to come down from the stress of classes and final exams being over, and really take a breath and realize everything we have accomplished together,” she said of this second week in May which began with her getting her final, passing grades. “It is such a great feeling. I did it. I actually did it. I do not allow age to be a determining factor anymore. And I want to encourage others who think that they are too old, that they too can make a change.”