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Eye on the Prize: Q&A with University of Kentucky's Rev. John E. Reese Jr.

We talked to Rev. John E. Reese, sociology student at the University of Kentucky. Reverend Reese, who went back to school for a second degree, shares his thoughtful insights to inspire adults to explore going back to school.

What was your educational background before you came to the University of Kentucky?

Rev. John E. Reese Jr.: I currently hold a B.A. in Bible and Theology

Why did you choose to return to college as an adult?

Reese: There are various reasons why I choose to return to college as an adult. First of all, I wanted to become a better informed individual, concerning this globalized village where I live. Society is made up of a kaleidoscope of various races, creeds, colors, nationalities, dialects, beliefs and practices. Each individual is interesting and unique, on a face to face micro level of interaction. People are even more interesting on the macro-level as groups intermingling and interacting as a society.  

Rev. John E. Reese Jr.Even though we are extraneously different in our characteristics and uniqueness within our individually, on one end of the spectrum; we inherently share a common bond of camaraderie on the other end of the spectrum.  As humans we have the innate ability to reason, choose, create, destroy, and love, as well as hate. We are all member of one race; the human race.

For me, education gives me a better understanding of who I am as an individual, as well as a better understanding of some of the principles and practices of those whom I encounter on a daily basis.  As humans, we are not only unique, but we are complex masterpieces that have a free will to achieve greatness, or be content to dwell on the plain of mediocrity and complacency.  

Education has been the spark that has ignited the wick of curiosity. The light from that flame has brought clarity to those things that have been hidden under the cloak of secrecy. The brighter and higher the light, the more darkness is diminished. Higher education has been that light to eliminate the dark areas of ignorance. The greatest and wisest man that ever walked the face of the earth said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

These words of wisdom are so true and on point; but before it makes you free, it will make you mad. Education is the fuel that generates this light of knowledge, which illuminates the mind to a brighter awareness of understanding.  Education shines light of the history of the past, the principles and practices of the present and the positive concepts and perspectives of a hopefully bright future. We can always hope against hope for a better tomorrow, can’t we?

Another reason why I went back to college as an adult was to show both the young (my children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and young parishioners) and the not so young that you never too old to learn. I often don’t see others like myself on campus. I rarely see other African-American males my age; and if I do, they don’t speak the same language as me. Yet, I am encouraged when I see Donavan Scholars, those who have retired and are going to college to stay on the informative edge of new ideas and concepts that challenges and stimulates their mature minds.

What degree are you pursuing?

Reese: Sociology

What has been the most challenging thing about being in college as an adult?

Reese: The most challenging thing about being in college as an adult is adjustment; adjustment to new ideas and principles that has caused me to question, and reevaluate what I thought I knew before becoming a college student. In some cases I had to be de-programmed in order to be re-programmed with fresh concepts and thought. It is like retooling an assembly line: you use the same parts, and you incorporate those parts with new one to produce a new product. I have polished the old tools of what I have learned in the past, and now as a more mature adult. I have retooled, refreshed and challenged my mind with new educational principles to create a better line of thought and reasoning as an individual. Some of the concepts, theories, principles and lectures have often challenged the foundations of my belief system concerning Christianity. However, I have gone in with an open mind striving to learn various concepts, in order that I can be better informed in other arenas of study.

Another challenge is that in many cases I am older than the teacher and what they have learned on an academic level, I have lived. Sometimes my stand point theory is completely different from everyone else because I will look at it through the lens of religiosity instead of the practical concept within the lesson plan. I will often marry theology with sociology and the offspring will end up as a Social-Theology or a Theo-sociology (if these phrases has not been coined, they just have been!).

Also, as a non-traditional student it is challenging because technology has put a new twist upon things, in this point-and-click era. At one point, it is good because we have access to instant information; but on the flipside once you get used to one operating system, and have finally figured it out and they come up with a new system! I guess that is the fun, as well as frustration, of learning something new.

Have you relied on financial aid to pursue your degree?

Reese: After a mix-up, I did receive financial aid in the form of a one-time scholarship. Currently, I am looking for grants to help me finish what I started. I have been on the fence about obtaining a federal loan, but I don’t know if I want to put my family through the expense of paying it back. If something were to happen to me, they would have to repay the unforgivable bill. It might take me longer if I pay as I go.

What are your top three tips for adults who want to return to school?


1) There must be a willingness to make a great sacrifice and to put yourself on the altar of education, for the greater good of yourself. For those who are your support system, it is a real sacrifice, but the rewards are worth it. It may seem overwhelming at first, but you have an advantage; you are mature, you know what you want and your life experience gives you an insightful perspective.

2) Pace yourself, set a goal and keep the end in mind. This is not a 100-yard dash, but a distance race, that calls for pace. If you start out too fast, you can wear yourself out and become discouraged. Take the scenic route and pace yourself like a cross country or marathon runner. Be prepared for those obstacles that will try to trip you up and make you frustrated along the way. There are support systems in place to help you when it seems like there is a road block of confusion on the pages of uncertainty. Don’t be ashamed or too proud ask for help.  Every professor wants their student to pass, because it shows that they are getting their point across to their students. It is like the A-B-C principle, you are at point A trying to get to point C, but in the mean time you have to go through point B to get from point A to C. Therefore, you have to be focused, patient, persistent, determined and encouraged that you can and will see your goal and cross the finish line.

3) You are among some of the brightest and best students locally, nationally and internationally. Their stand point may not be the same as yours. Their culture and concepts may be completely different from yours. You may not see eye to eye on various views and thoughts.  Religion or religiosity may or may not be on their radar. Yet, as individuals, you have to respect what they believe or don’t believe. Education has helped me to understand the beliefs of others, but on the same token it has helped me to share what I have been taught and believe as an individual according to the Holy Scripture, which is my foundation and my focus. I ask God to give me the wisdom and understanding to discern the knowledge that I receive from books and my professors, that will bring healing and hope to those whom I encounter in my walk of life.

If you could speak to your “freshman student self” what advice would you give?

Find your passion and maximize the innate gift(s) that makes up the unique DNA of you as an individual. Stay focused.

Take the necessary classes that you need to finish your degree even if it means taking classes in summer school. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. An African proverb tells us that the best way to eat an elephant is to eat it one bite at a time. If it takes you a long time to get finished, that’s okay. The time that you sacrifice now will determine the destiny of your future. A wise person said, “No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan.” Plan wisely and stay on course and set your pace.

Don’t let anyone kill your dreams; rehearse those dreams in your mind; write your dreams down in words and draw a diagram of your dreams with you in the middle of them taking complete charge of what you have birthed in your mind. If you believe it, you can conceive it into reality.

For those students that have graduated how has your new degree helped?

Reese: I’m keeping my eyes on the prize.

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