Grandmother, granddaughter graduating from RCCC today

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Frances Kanipe started college 50 years after graduating from Mount Pleasant High School.
At 67 years old, Kanipe signed up for a computer class at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College after a nudge from her son, David, a welding instructor at the college.
“I wanted to learn how to turn on a computer because I didn’t know how,” she said. “That was the beginning of it, and each semester I kept saying, ‘I’m going to take some other classes.’ ”
And she did. Enough classes to earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education, which she’ll receive today alongside her granddaughter, Kristi Leonard.
Leonard is earning a pre-elementary education degree and plans to attend Catawba College to complete her bachelor’s in elementary and special education.
“I think it’s the best thing in the world,” Kanipe said. “Not many people can say they graduated from college with their granddaughter.”
Leonard said it’s “pretty cool” that the two completed their degree at the same time.
They are part of the college’s largest graduating class ever, consisting of more than 1,000 students.
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Kanipe’s foray into the early childhood education path was a happy accident.
She wanted to take a Spanish in the workplace course, but when she found out it wasn’t available that semester, she turned to the catalog. Child development sounded appealing, so she signed up.
One class in, she was hooked.
During her second child development class, instructor Sandra Novick asked Kanipe if she was taking the course for the “fun of it.”
“I said no, I thought maybe after I did this, I could work at a day care or something,” she said. “She’s the one who encouraged me to get my degree, and that was it.”
But Kanipe is quick to admit she didn’t do it all alone. She said Leonard was her “right hand woman” throughout it all.
“She was my tutor,” she said. “My English literature class was totally online and I could do the work, but I didn’t know how to send it or type it in the right form so I would call her and say ‘Grandma needs help, talk me through this.’ ”
Kanipe said she’s still not a pro at using the computer, but she knows how to surf the Internet and make PowerPoint presentations.
“I haven’t completely learned how to put something on a flash drive yet but I’ve come a long way,” she said. “I’m still teaching myself a lot.”
Kanipe said she was recently encouraging an 80-year-old friend to sign up for a computer course.
“It opens up a whole new world,” she said. “I told her if you know how to use a computer, you can find out anything you want to know. You can look for pictures of Elvis Presley if you want.”
• • •
Kanipe said determination runs in the family.
“We don’t question whether we can or can’t; we just do it,” she said.
That determination has come in handy for both women.
When Kanipe started class at Rowan-Cabarrus, she wasn’t nervous, she was ready.
“I just went in there and had a good time,” she said. “I had these ladies in my classes who would get frustrated and say they were getting too old for this, and I’d turn around and say, ‘How old are you?’ When they said, ‘I’m 45,’ I’d say, ‘Well, honey, I’m 68 … 69 … 70..’ ”
Kanipe said she refuses to believe she’s “too old” for anything.
“When you get my age you have two choices: You can watch the world go by or you can get on and ride as it’s going by. You don’t have to sit there,” she said.
Leonard has overcome her own set of challenges.
Diagnosed in the fifth grade with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes bones as brittle as chalk, she’s had more than 50 broken bones in her lifetime.
But Leonard said she rarely missed school or dance class.
“I remember one time her foot was in a cast and she looked down at it and said, ‘No one is going to tell me I can’t dance,’ ” Kanipe said. “Now that’s determination.”
• • •
Kanipe said she feels a void now that school is over.
“I’m going to miss it,” she said. “But I really do want to work with children with special needs.”
During an internship with McKnight Child Development Center, the Head Start program serving the Kannapolis City school system, Kanipe said she encountered students from a variety of backgrounds, some which included a tough home life.
“They wanted me to be their grandma,” she said. “They needed somebody to love them, so I did.”
Kanipe said during movie times, she would have one child on each side of her and two in her lap.
“The only thing I would change about my time at Rowan-Cabarrus is that I would’ve spent both of my internships there instead of just my second one.”
Kanipe has already applied for a job at the center. If she doesn’t get on there, she’ll keep looking for a position where she can work with children from a “spectrum of backgrounds.”
In the meantime, she plans to continue working out at the senior center, sewing and decorating cakes.
• • •
About 1,000 graduates ranging in age from 17 to 70 will turn the tassel to the next chapter in their lives today during Rowan-Cabarrus’ 49th commencement ceremony at Cabarrus Arena and Events Center.
College spokeswoman Paula Dibley said the larger than usual number of graduates can be attributed to a number of factors.
“I believe students recognize that without a degree, diploma or certificate beyond high school, they cannot compete for the jobs that become available” she said. “This graduating class includes our first Early College class as well as many graduates who took advantage of unemployment benefits to return to college.”
Dibley said the slow economic recovery has also prompted many first-year college transfer students to attend Rowan-Cabarrus before committing to a four-year institution.
“We are convenient, affordable and relevant to our economy,” she said.
The college has bolstered its efforts to improve student retention and completion, Dibley said.
“Rowan-Cabarrus has been aggressive in its efforts to secure additional scholarship funds for students, to enhance the use of technology in instruction and services, and to improve the quality of our faculty and staff,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.