Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.
Two days rank as among the most memorable of Stephen Green’s life.
One was the day he graduated from Indiana University Kokomo, in 2014. The other was in 2017, when his mother, Mimi Ford, crossed the stage to receive her own degree.
“Being able to see that was an incredibly proud moment for me,” said Green, who is now the Chicago Program coordinator for Lake Forest College. “I was glad I was able to be there in that moment, which was 26 years in the making.”
Those graduation days are now cherished memories, as Ford passed away just eight months after graduating, at age 51. She was in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs in English.
“She still had a lot left to do and accomplish in the world,” he said. “We were on the cusp of something new and exciting.”
It was a hard loss for Green, because for years, he and his mother only had each other.
“I think anyone who loses a parent knows it never gets easier,” he said. “For the majority of my life, it was just me and my mom navigating the world together. We had a parent and child relationship, but I also would consider her a friend and confidant.”
Graduation from college wasn’t a given for either of them. Just a few years earlier, Green was blowing off high school classes, and barely earned a general diploma, while Ford had briefly attended college in the 1980s before dropping out.
“For both of us, IU Kokomo was a fresh start,” he said. “It was our opportunity to make our lives better, in a way we never thought was possible. IU Kokomo allowed us to flourish and thrive in an academic environment, and to reach our goals.”
Neither of them would have had the chance to improve their lives without the opportunities and support they both received on campus, he said.
“Mom would never have dreamed about applying to Ph.D. programs if it hadn’t been for IU Kokomo,” he said. “I would never have imagined I would go to graduate school, or I would be dedicating my career to working in higher education. The fact we had access to it close to home, in an environment that allowed us to stay afloat financially, was a testament to what IU Kokomo meant to us and our journey.”
She was one of the first to encourage him to go to college, even after his less-than-stellar high school performance. Green figured he would go for a semester or two, and anticipated dropping out when it got too hard.
His first academic advisor, Catherine Barnes, set him straight.
“She told me, ‘You are going to graduate, you are going to graduate school, and you are going to study abroad,’” he said, and having someone who believed in him made a difference.
“There was someone on my side supporting me, and who was going to hold me accountable, and believed I could achieve all these things,” he said. “Something clicked inside me, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”
Buoyed by his newfound confidence, he excelled, making the dean’s list every semester, serving as a student orientation leader, working the front desk in the student activities office, and also was an assistant teacher in a motivation and self-management course.
As a senior, he earned admission to his top choice school, Colorado State University’s master’s program in Student Affairs and Higher Education. His career aspiration is to be a dean of students.
Along the way, Ford was his biggest cheerleader — and his success provided the push she needed to restart her own degree.
“She was the driving force for me to stay with it,” he said, adding that they had some hard times, including Ford losing her job.
“I wasn’t sure that staying in school was the right decision for us, financially,” he said. “She encouraged me to stay and keep with it and to graduate. When she saw me excelling and thriving in that environment, it relit the passion and fire she had for learning before she had to stop out.”
Ford began working on her degree during Green’s senior year at IU Kokomo.
“I remember how proud I was of her and honored that she would confide in me and ask me for advice,” he said. “She had been such a mentor for me in a number of ways, and it was a way I could give back to her.”