May 15, 2012
Contact: Maryville College Office of Communications
Sometimes the path to a college degree is not a straight line.
Sometimes it zigs one way and then zags another – or never happens at all.
Sometimes all it requires is resilience and perseverance.
When Blount County native Sarah Ezalee Moore, 27, walks across the Maryville College stage on May 20 to receive her degree, she will have both qualities tucked under her cap.
Following her graduation from Heritage High School in 2003, Moore enrolled at the College to study pre-med courses. She’d always wanted to be a doctor – or thought she did – and followed that path for two years. At the same time, her mother was battling cancer, and Moore, who is named after her great-grandmothers on both sides, was taking care of her.
The first member of her family to pursue a college education, she lived at home to help defray the costs. Studying at home was a challenge not only because of her mother’s health but also because other family members didn’t always understand that she needed to devote more time to her classes.
Moore could have given up at any time. She had a job as a certified nursing assistant at Asbury Acres and could have been content to continue that career.
But she wanted a bachelor’s degree from Maryville College.
During the early semesters, she was selected for the Concert Choir and made new friends through the ensemble. She also discovered that being a doctor had been other people’s dream for her and that her heart wasn’t in it. She switched her major to math, and stayed in that for four years. In 2007, her mother’s health severely deteriorated, and Moore started falling behind in her classes and course work.
“My head, my heart, my soul was not in school at all,” Moore said. “It was with my mother.”
With her grades nearly bottoming out and her mother getting sicker, school officials encouraged her to take a year off to take care of herself and her mother and then reapply later when she could focus her attention back on academic life. She quit school after the spring semester in 2009.
“I was kind of thankful for the way things happened,” said Moore, who knew she had to give her mother her time and attention as she watched her mother’s life ebbing away. At the age of 54, her mother died in December 2009 from complications of the cancer and its treatment.
Stacey Wilner, coordinator of choral music at the College and director of the Concert knew Moore was having a difficult time navigating the challenges of school along with caring for her mother.
“When I saw it happening, I thought there was no other course but for it to happen,” Wilner said of Moore’s decision to leave school. “I felt deep down she had resilience and inner strength. I thought ‘This will be an opportunity for her to grow.’”
Wilner stayed in touch with her former student via social media and email and encouraged her to resume her studies when she was ready.
But even before Moore’s mother died, her life was already in motion toward her future – though she didn’t know it at the time. She met someone about three months before her mother’s death. They started dating, and later he encouraged her to return for her degree. She eventually decided she wanted to finish school and approached Maryville College officials, asking for another chance. Moore re-enrolled for the fall semester 2010.
Her re-entrance was not without restrictions, and as she said, College officials kept her on a “tight leash,” academically. Once again she switched her major. This time to economics, and she developed a plan to get all the courses she needed in order to graduate within two years.
“God is my number one rock,” she said. “Nothing is possible without Him.”
Switching to an economics major influenced the way Moore felt about school and about her academic abilities, providing her with the turning point she needed.
“It was refreshing to get into an area (economics) that I was actually good at and did well,” she said, adding that she will finish her degree with minors in business and math.
Dr. Sharon May, assistant professor of economics and Moore’s academic advisor, said the senior definitely has had more to deal with than most students.
“I guess what has impressed me the most is her persistence to get a degree,” May said. “She’s had a winding road.”
May said the College has guidelines to help students who have had problems but have also shown academic promise. The tight rein is to help them stay on track and persist to graduation, she said.
“Sarah has definitely had a lot of people watching over her here,” May said. “I think I’m going to be as proud as she is when she walks across the stage and gets her diploma.”
Every Maryville College student must complete a two-semester Senior Study project before graduation. Moore’s study allowed her to tap into both her major and her love for helping others. She researched how the medical costs of domestic violence impact the local economy here in Blount County.
And she’s been able to continue singing, which she has loved since her toddler days. In addition to her membership with the Concert Choir, Moore was selected to be in Off Kilter, the College’s prestigious a cappella ensemble, last fall.
(Ironically, Dr. Harry Harter, the College’s beloved choir director and professor of music for many years, lived at Asbury Acres before he died, and Moore had the opportunity to visit with him from time to time.)
“Choir and Off Kilter have been a big part of it,” she said of her college experience. “My mom was always so proud of that. She was the best mom and so involved in everything and so supportive and such a Christian.”
Knowing her mother would be proud of her accomplishments helped Moore carry on during the hard times and kept her focused on the goal of graduation.
Wilner has watched Moore find her way through those hard times.
“It is so pleasing to hear someone compliment Sarah for her singing because they are, in essence, complimenting both her musical and personal growth,” Wilner said. “Sarah possesses a rare quality, true inner strength that serves her well in life. She has managed to overcome obstacles that would have deterred most people. When she walks up to receive her diploma on graduation day, she will have accomplished this journey on her own.
“I am so very proud of her and know that she will continue to learn, inspire others and have a great impact on many people in her lifetime,” Wilner added.
After graduation, Moore plans to pursue a career as a financial adviser, though she hopes to continue working at Asbury Acres for a while to retain her certification.
“There seems to be a lot of opportunities out there for the things I have expertise in,” she said.
As Moore prepares to graduate, she is reflective of her time at the College, and although it hasn’t always been easy, she’s leaving with more than just academic lessons.
“I’ve experienced more than the average college student has. I’ve learned not to take things for granted,” she said. “I’ve had a second chance, and I’m going to make the most of it. I’m honored to be here. I’m honored to be a Maryville College student. I’m very excited to move on to the next step, but I’m also sad to be leaving.”
This story was written by Bonny Millard, a freelance writer for the Office of Communications.
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was 1,168.