Commencement is meaningful for all graduates, marking years of hard work in pursuit of ambitious educational goals. This year, though, the act of walking across the podium to receive a diploma had particular significance for English major Rhonda Still, whose graduation was the culmination of a three-decade journey.
Still first entered The University of Tulsa in the 1990s, after earning her associate’s degree at Tulsa Community College. However, life challenges pulled her away from school, including a period of health struggles and disability. She remained committed to earning her degree, taking two courses in 2001 and returning in 2022 to finish her remaining coursework.
Her resilience was a source of inspiration for her professors and classmates, including TU Provost George Justice, who noted, “I was assigned to be Rhonda Still’s faculty mentor. After talking with her the first time, I realized how much she could mentor me, and others, in the values of persistence, hard work, and optimism in the face of adversity. I am proud of her being able to finish her degree, and proud of TU for helping to make that happen.”
Assistant Professor of English Don James McLaughlin expressed similar admiration: “It was such a privilege to be Rhonda’s professor while she completed a 25-page autobiographical essay for her senior project, which she crafted in the genre of devotional testimony. The wisdom that Rhonda has acquired through her life experiences left a lasting impact on all of us, as did her gift for sharing her story in prose. Rhonda credits her courage to her faith, which her essay encapsulates with a quote from Psalm 46: ‘God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.’”
Still completed her courses while working full time as an English Language Arts Writing Teacher to sixth graders at Bristow Middle School. She has three children, two stepchildren, and three grandchildren, all of which add up to a busy and full life. She remains an avid reader, citing C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers as her favorite authors. We chatted with Still about her time at TU and her plans for life after graduation.
What are the most striking differences and similarities between your first attendance at TU and your current?
“The biggest difference has to be technology. I took a summer elective course in 2022 and never met the instructor in person. Communicating, submitting coursework, and scheduling meetings were done electronically. The biggest similarity is the quality and continuity of learning. Even without meeting my summer instructor, I never felt the experience lacked in any aspect. I still experienced the same level of individualized and comprehensive learning that TU represents.”
What has your experience been in combining a love for teaching and a love for learning?
“My love for learning drives my love for teaching. Having seen the opportunities and experiences learning brought into my life, I feel led to share the merits of lifelong learning with others (especially my students). This very question was actually at the core of my senior project, which was an autobiography. It began with a negative writing experience when I was in the sixth grade and details the events and situations in my life leading to my own sixth-grade writing classroom. Among other things, this narrative shows how I’ve been guided in my education and career by the desire to be the kind of teacher that I wanted and needed when I myself was a child.”
What interests or curiosities have drawn you back to education and English?
“I have always had a poet’s heart and used writing as an outlet to process emotions and situations in my life. In teaching sixth graders writing skills, I hope to foster an appreciation for writing and help them utilize it as a similar outlet as they enter the challenging teenage years.”
How have you overcome obstacles and challenges in the path to getting your degree?
“Only by the grace of God! He has opened doors and placed opportunities and people in my life including my husband, my children, and my church, school and college community. He has blessed me with a village to get me through the personal and financial challenges and provided the right opportunities at specific moments to guide my path.”
What are your plans after graduation?
“I plan to complete my state certification for my teaching license so I can move from an adjunct teacher to a fully licensed one. I would also like to continue my education by pursuing a graduate degree and expand my senior project paper into a published work. Additionally, I plan to use my teaching skills for volunteer/mission work to give back some of the invaluable support given to me.”