Marilyn MacGregor’s stride was strong and her posture tall, as she joined the procession across the lawn to commencement exercises Friday at North Idaho College.
Anyone who was her classmate in “power walking” wouldn’t be surprised at the 53-year-old graduate’s confidence.
“I get real competitive with these young girls,” admitted MacGregor, whose white hair and smattering of smile lines belie her youthful air.
Just a few years ago, her daughter Kathy Rettke wouldn’t have recognized the woman who crossed the NIC campus in her cap and gown Friday morning.
“It’s like a whole new person who’s been buried for years,” Rettke said. “She’s willing to meet life head-on. She’s not playing the victim.”
MacGregor’s story isn’t that unusual.
After high school, MacGregor enrolled in Portland State University in 1960, interested in pursuing a degree in social work. After a few years, she dropped out of college and married.
She had two daughters, and her life centered around family and church.
“I don’t know why I didn’t go back to school. It was very important to me,” she said.
In 1981, MacGregor and her family moved to North Idaho. Eventually, her daughters graduated and left home. The “family theme” was no longer central in her life, but nothing had replaced it. MacGregor and her husband separated three years ago.
As her meaning in life slipped away, MacGregor slipped into a deep depression.
“I was so into taking care of everyone else, my personal growth lifeline just stopped,” she explained Thursday from her comfortable Coeur d’Alene home.
“I had come from the old school, where the man was basically the head of the house. I gave him my power,” she said.
After doing some home-care nursing work, MacGregor took a 100-hour certified nurse’s assistant course through NIC and landed a job at Kootenai Medical Center.
She was encouraged to continue school. KMC helped, with its policy of paying for employees’ college courses.
She took more classes. She used the college counseling services and took advantage of NIC’s Center for New Directions, which is designed to help people realize their potential. She not only brushed up on math, but learned tools that removed obstacles to a fuller life.
“It’s like a light, and all of the sudden you want to go for it,” MacGregor said.
Go for it, she did. She made the dean’s list, found a new love for life and plans on continuing her education in social work at Lewis Clark State College next fall.
This summer she wants to visit her new granddaughter in Colorado and learn to in-line skate in California.
“She became just a flower,” said Nancy Wells, an old friend who traveled from Oregon to attend the graduation ceremony. “She’s just been renewed.”
Portions of Friday’s ceremony seemed tailor-made for students like MacGregor.
Singer Bobbi Kotula performed “I Ain’t Down Yet” from The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and commencement speaker Richard “Duke” Snyder urged the graduates to take risks and “seize the day.”
“Get out of the rut. Go try some new adventures,” he told them.
Soon after his speech, MacGregor and about 300 other students crossed the stage one-by-one to get their diplomas.
When her name was called, MacGregor was greeted with cheers from her admirers and friends. She acknowledged them with a smile and wave, shook hands with NIC officials and achieved her dream of three dozen years.