DURANT – John A Williams Jr. (his middle name is A — it is not an initial) and his wife Tina were working at low-income jobs in Durant, trying to juggle schedules and take care of their three children.
“It was a miserable time for us,” Williams said. “We were trying to make enough money to just get by and it wasn’t working out. We had lost one of our cars to repossession.
“I was in the employment office in Durant talking to the Veterans Representative when I first heard about Veterans Upward Bound. I couldn’t afford a baby sitter so I borrowed gas money and took my 3-year-old with me to East Central in Ada to visit the VUB office.
“Mary Meeks (EC VUB program director) and Jill Williamson (academic counselor) offered amazing help to get me into college. I had some low grades on some of the tests and it was pretty discouraging. They stuck with me and everything worked out.
“Tracey Claxton (Tutor Coordinator/Academic Counselor in Southeastern’s Student Support Services program) helped financially through the TRIO program. These people have made a huge difference in my life.”
Williams will be 44 years old November 25 and had not been in school since 1989 except for a brief stint when he became certified for law enforcement at Rockingham (N.C.) Community College.
He had always wanted to go to college, but things had not worked out for him. He joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from Alliance (Ohio) High School in 1989.
His plan to make the Navy a career was sidetracked when a military cutback saw him honorably discharged in 1993. He worked with hydraulics in the Navy, specifically the arresting cable (tailhook) that stopped planes landing on aircraft carriers.
A tailhook accident cost him part of his left index finger. The run of bad luck continued when he was leaving his ship one day and a speeding truck driver hit him. That left him with 30 percent disability.
After the unplanned end to his Navy career, Williams bounced around the country. He lived in six states and held numerous jobs from fast food to manufacturing to truck driving to handyman to landscaping to taking newspapers off the press.
He came to Oklahoma looking for work in 1997, left in 2004 and returned in 2007.
He met Tina, his second wife, when both worked in Durant. She is from Michigan, he from Ohio. Naturally, they met in Durant, Oklahoma.
“When I realized I could actually go to college,” Williams said, “it was pretty scary. I hadn’t been to school in a long time and would be with kids just out of high school. I finally decided my experiences might even give me a little edge on them. I’ve been job hunting with no degree and I know exactly how difficult it is.”
Vocational Rehab offered the opportunity to change his life and Williams is taking full advantage of it. The $1,000 National Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) scholarship made things a bit easier. He is now in his second semester at Southeastern. His first-semester delivered an impressive grade-point average.
He will be 48, maybe 49 years old when he gets his degree in fisheries and wildlife. He also wants to pursue an advanced degree in marine biology or oceanography with an eye on conducting environmental research.
“I worry about getting my degree at that age,” John said, “but I’m hoping someone will hire me. Everything is looking up. I’m getting my degree and I’m really driven and motivated by this opportunity.
“Several people went out of their way to help me get into college and started on this path. Now it’s up to me to hold up my end of the deal.”