When Artie Mae Grisby crossed the commencement stage on May 11, she was among the oldest graduates in University of Northern Colorado history at 79.
Although she's proud of earning her bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, the completion of her degree is just one step on a lifelong journey that didn't end on graduation day.
"I keep my feet flat on the floor," Grisby said recently at UNC's Center for Urban Education (CUE) in Denver, where she took classes for the past two years. "This is my time, that's all."
She said she never thought she'd go into a career working with children after visiting a friend's childcare center in her home state of Louisiana many years ago.
Nor did she imagine that she'd go on to become a sought-after childcare trainer and first aid instructor for the state of Colorado.
"I was a nurse for a few years before I worked in the insurance business. After 10 years of that, I knew I had to do something else," she said.
But she didn't know what so she turned to her religious faith and prayed for guidance on her next steps. The message was clear.
"'Childcare,' the Lord told me. And I said, ‘No, not me!'" But each time she prayed, the answer was the same. "So I finally decided to listen. I said, ‘Ok, I'll quit my job and I'd better have one child in my care by August 1.'"
On Aug. 1, 1984, Grisby had two children signed up for her in-home daycare.
She went on to run her own childcare for 24 years, experience that served her well in training and mentoring many childcare providers in Colorado, serving on national childcare association boards and developing the Northeast Denver Childcare Network.
But even while caring for those first two children, Grisby "knew there must be something more to it." That curiosity led her back to school where she earned her associate's degree in Early Childhood Education and Management.
"I knew it was more than a custodial job," she said "I wanted to know as much as I could about these little children. I knew the kids were awesome and smart, they just needed guidance and love, so I wanted to give them what I could."
A strong believer in education, Grisby took classes at the University of Colorado at Denver. After her husband died in 2010, she was ready for a new challenge to occupy her mind. Alicia Biggs, a colleague and new instructor at UNC, told Grisby about the CUE. Biggs and CUE Director Irv Moskowitz introduced her to grant and scholarship opportunities available, and helped transfer her credits.
Her bachelor's degree from UNC will be her crowning achievement. "I am being validated. I am learning why I know what I know and I am learning so many new things that will help my training career.
As a childcare trainer, Grisby has focused on guiding childcare providers in social and emotional, nutrition, safety, rules and regulations, and parental involvement. With her degree, she will be able to expand on social, emotional and cognitive development for different age groups.
"If you know why children do certain things, it makes it easier to teach them and care for them," she said."
She plans to continue her career in training after graduation. "I'd really like to continue educating providers who have not had the opportunity of going to school."
When she wasn't taking classes four evenings a week while pursuing her degree, Grisby worked part-time at a private school in Denver and volunteered at her church. She has great-grandchildren in Oklahoma and Denver. She doesn't stop to rest for more than a few hours each night, and even then, her mind keeps going.
"I'm here for a reason," she said. "The children are my reward. When the light goes on in their eyes because they really understand something you're teaching them, that is my reward."
- Amy Dressel-Martin