Carol Hicks, 75, Blountville, Tennessee
Carol Hicks has had, by her own estimation, a blessed life. Now 75, the East Tennessee native has raised a family with her husband of 57 years and enjoyed her work career, including more than a decade with Junior Achievement before retiring a couple years ago. She has also been playing Volleyball and running in the National Senior Games since 1991.
But there was one thing that nagged her – she never went to college.
“I was the oldest of six children, so that was a big reason why I didn’t get to college,” she explains. “During my life, I have regretted not going and felt I had missed something. I thought about it at times but didn’t have the nerve. When I retired, I decided I had time to give it a try. I’m not the type to sit around.”
In January of 2018, Carol decided to enroll in accounting at Northeast State Community College in Blountville. At first, she was understandably self-conscious, being the white-haired lady in dress pants in a classroom where everyone else is 50 years younger and wearing tank tops and shorts. But it didn’t take long to fit in.
“They were very accepting and supportive,” she recalls. “After I was doing well in class, I had several of them come to me for help, and I was happy to do so. The kids were impressed and even bragged on me. It made me feel better about looking so ignorant!”
Entering college at 73 is daunting enough, but life threw another curveball when COVID-19 closed physical classes on campus in her final semester. Carol had some online class presentations, but says she adapted. “Besides, most of the teachers I had did not do Zoom teaching. I had my textbooks and I just had to take all my tests online.”
This was not the first time the spunky ball setter and track sprinter has taken on something new at an older age, as she started competitive sports in middle age. Church activities gave her the opportunity to play Volleyball and Softball, and Carol and her husband helped organize leagues for several years. “I had no sports in school growing up,” she says. “We played sandlot baseball with the boys – it didn’t matter, you played with whoever was around.”
In her 40s, Carol decided to go take a real volleyball class. “My first serious competition came when I started Senior Games in 1991. I haven’t missed Nationals since then.” She’s proud to have been part of earning Gold in Volleyball, and also in the Womens 75-79 4×100 Relay, plus Bronze in the 100- and 200-meter races at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana in Albuquerque.
Now that she has earned her Certificate of Accounting, one might assume she is going back to work, but that was not Carol’s goal. “Everyone laughs at me when they ask what I’m going to do with this and I answer, ‘Absolutely nothing!’ It was just that spark in me that told me to try and take on the challenge.” She was sad not to have a graduation, although she did get her cap and gown before the pandemic hit. “But I really feel sorry for the high school and college kids this year. This may be their only opportunity to walk on stage to get their degree.”
Carol enjoyed interacting with the students, and her experience has allowed her to offer advice to her young classmates. “Every avenue that you try, that’s just another added benefit you can use sometime in your life,” she says. “That’s one of the things I encourage young people – try anything! You will learn if you like it, and you will learn if you don’t like it. Either way, it will be a valuable experience.”