A moment of self-reflection at a low point in her life years ago was the motivation Lenoir Community College student Jennie Tolar needed to get her life back on track. She has come a long way from dropping out of high school at 15 to getting ready to graduate from LCC and preparing to transfer to East Carolina University.
“I was born and raised in Kinston where I participated in Civil War reenactments with my dad and was able to travel and see the country by doing that,” she said. “When I was 15, I dropped out of high school after feeling like an outcast and like I didn’t really have a set group of friends.”
Tolar decided she could make do by working multiple jobs in the food service industry to get by. She said from ages 15 to 20, she was in and out of trouble, but it wasn’t until her 20th birthday that she decided she needed to make a change.
“I looked around and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” she said. “I went back to working full time at The Peach House and had my daughter at age 22, and my son at age 25, all while also helping raise my step daughter.”
The young mother said when her children began school, she found herself preaching to them the importance of education and realized she needed to take her own advice. She said she had made excuses over the years as to why she didn’t need to go back to school.
“I thought I was doing fine living month-to-month and I was content with where I was in life,” she said. “My daughter knew I desired to go back and she gave me the push I needed to earn my GED through Lenoir Community College.”
After earning her GED, she continued to work full time at The Peach House for three more years. She said she knew she had accomplished a personal goal but if she truly wanted to make something of herself, she needed an education. “The daily struggle of working in such a fast-paced, loud, and physically demanding environment was beginning to take its toll on me mentally and physically,” she said.
“I remember going home and being exhausted, irritated daily,” Tolar recalled. “I wasn’t the mother I needed to be and I knew I could do more. On my commute to and from work, I would pass Lenoir Community College. One day I decide to go for it, and I turned into the college and told myself I was going to make the most of my future.”
Tolar said she remembers walking into LCC, not knowing what she would be studying or how she would pay for it.
“The help and guidance I received was life changing, literally. I completed my application, had assistance completing my financial aid, and was directed into the program of study I am in now.
“While I was here that day, I looked into all the programs offered,” she said. “I was unsure of what I wanted to do but knew I needed something that would have job security. After reading about Information Technology, I knew it would be challenging, but I was up for it.”
She said after she decided to go back to college, she gave her 30-day notice and never looked back. “I knew what was ahead of me was better than anything I was leaving behind. My first semester of college was demanding, but I was determined to prove to not only myself but to my children and those who doubted me that I could do it. To my surprise, I finished my first semester with a 4.0 grade point average and have held that GPA for every semester since.”
Tolar said LCC gave her the opportunity to change her life and her family’s lives.
“I was offered a work-study position in the Information Technology (IT) Department my first semester, which has been a blessing. By working part time, I am able to still provide for my family while going to school full time. Working in the IT Department, I am able to apply what I learn and use it directly on the job.”
The soon-to-be graduate’s journey for success is far from over. She plans to transfer to ECU and earn her bachelor in Information and Computer Technology degree. “I am looking forward to new beginnings and to finally enjoying life and having a career in something I have grown to love.
“If I could give advice to anyone who is in a similar situation as I was, it would be to just go for it. Do not let the opportunity pass, and that it is never too late to go back,” she said. “I have realized everything I was scared of doing has only bettered me now. My time at the college has been just as much an emotional experience as it has been an educational experience and for that, I am grateful.”