Graduate fulfills a dying wish

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Every time Cortia Williams thought of quitting college, she remembered her grandmother's dying wish that she graduate.

It was a wish that came with $500 in change, saved up in two tin cans stowed carefully in a trunk in the New Madrid, Mo., home of her grandmother, Edna Williams.

The money helped the Sikeston, Mo., woman stay in school in her second semester of her freshman year at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. At the end of that semester, she dropped out of college to raise a family as a single mother.

But she returned to school in 1996, this time at Southeast Missouri State University.

On Saturday, Williams, 29, will fulfill her grandmother's dying wish: She will graduate from Southeast with a teaching degree, the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Some of her five siblings have attended but not finished.

Williams didn't think she'd make the grade either. "In the back of my mind, I was just always trying to give up," she said during a visit to the University Center on Wednesday as she prepared to turn in her final homework assignment.

Financing her education hasn't been easy.

A 1990 graduate of Sikeston High School, she nearly had to drop out of school at Lincoln University her first year because of lack of money.

Her grandmother came to her rescue. Edna Williams bequeathed the carefully saved coins on her death bed in a Sikeston hospital in the winter of 1991.

Cortia Williams' daughter, Chelsea, is 9. She also has a 5-year-old son, Kezrin. The three live in an apartment in Sikeston.

She enrolled at Southeast after her son was born, convinced she needed to fulfill her grandmother's wish. To do so, she has had to juggle classes and long hours at a low-paying job helping developmentally disabled persons in Sikeston.

Her mother, Syletta Williams of Sikeston, has helped take care of the children.

"I took out loans. l worked my way through school," Cortia Williams said.

But she almost didn't finish. After attending summer school this year, she learned that she had used up her student loans and didn't qualify for any more funding.

Her father, Lawrence Williams, agreed to pay her last semester of schooling. "My dad said don't worry about anything," she recalled.

Her father, a Baptist minister and retired Noranda aluminum plant employee, has made the $500 to $600 monthly payments to the university this semester, she said.

Williams said she is looking forward to getting a teaching job and spending time with her children.

Her mother, who made it through one year of college, couldn't be happier. "She broke the curse. She had the willpower and the incentive to finish," Syletta Williams said.

Cortia Williams said her entire family will be at the Show Me Center on Saturday to see her graduate.

A smiling Williams is certain her grandmother will be there in spirit. "I know it," she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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