When Samantha Lindsay walked out of her sixth-grade classroom at the end of the year, she had no idea that it also would be the end of school for her.
Lindsay never sat through grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12. But that’s not stopping her from pursuing a college degree now. In her early 40s, she is a freshman with a 4.0 grade point average at Pellissippi State Community College.
On the road
Soon after finishing sixth grade, Lindsay left Florida to escape an abusive mother. She took a bus to Texas, to live with a father she’d only met briefly the year before.
Her father was unemployed that summer, and they didn’t have anything to do, so they hitchhiked.
“Where do you want to go?” her dad asked. She picked California, because she knew she’d been born there. So they thumbed their way from Texas to California. After a few weeks there, they headed to Florida.
They arrived just in time for Lindsay to enroll in seventh grade. The junior high experience lasted two weeks before her father took her back out of school to return to Texas.
They spent the next two years hitchhiking around the country, with her father working the occasional job. Eventually they were offered jobs with the carnival in Arizona.
Lindsay ran the “floss wagon” (cotton candy machine), put kids on rides and adjusted to life with her carnival “family” of about 300. When she was 16, her dad went back to Texas, and for the next five years she lived the carnival life.
“It’s a lot of hard work for very little money,” she said.
She also got married, at age 16, and tried seventh grade again.
“I really didn’t fit in,” said Lindsay, and when her husband was critically injured at work, she dropped out to take care of him.
A new beginning
It was decades before Samantha Lindsay was to enter a classroom again, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t learning along the way.
“I read every spare minute,” she said, “thousands of books, in fact. But going back to finish school never crossed my mind. When you grow up the way I did, you kind of give up on pursuing your own dreams.
“I found myself in Knoxville as my second marriage was ending,” Lindsay said. “I became a Christian and joined a local church.”
That’s where she eventually met her husband, Michael, a University of Tennessee graduate with a master’s in library science. Soon the young couple moved to Mobile, where Michael took a position as a medical librarian at the University of South Alabama.
“In Alabama we started to socialize some with Michael’s work crowd,” she said. “The first question people always asked me was, ‘Where did you go to school?’ I’d always just say, ‘I’m a housewife. I didn’t go to college.’
“I got tired of being asked that. It was kind of intimidating. I was helping support us. It never occurred to me that it would have been a good time in my life to do something, too.”
It was not until Samantha and Michael returned to Knoxville that going back to school entered her mind.
“All of the sudden I thought, ‘Hey, what about me?’ I decided I needed to get my high school diploma.”
Looking online, her husband discovered Pellissippi State’s free Adult Education program. Lindsay started taking classes at the Pellissippi Campus on Hardin Valley Road to prepare for the General Educational Development exam.
Since she hadn’t been in a classroom in 25 years, she thought she’d better get extra help with math, so she took it upon herself to order a math book from the McGraw-Hill publishing company.
“I started getting ready for the test in August,” Lindsay said, “and I was determined to score as high as possible. I opened up the math book and got lost in it—it was absolutely the best book I’d ever read. My husband would come home, and I would have been there studying for eight hours. He’d say, ‘Don’t you need to eat?’ I’d say, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
She aced her GED the following December.
“I was shocked by some of the results,” said Lindsay. “I had a perfect score in the social sciences part. I was really high in science and math.
“Beverly Jolley, [an Adult Education teacher] at Pellissippi State, really helped me. The Adult Education program is awesome. You can tell they have a real commitment to seeing people improve their lives.”
But as satisfying as the GED results were, Lindsay wasn’t ready to stop.
“I’ve worked as a bartender, a cocktail waitress. I’ve served food, even chopped firewood for a living. I have a lot of things under my belt. I thought, ‘Why get my GED and just do things I’ve done before? Why not go to college and do something I would enjoy?’
“I was ready to think about going to college, but I knew I’d have to take placement tests to see how many developmental classes [to prepare for college-level courses] I needed.”
Lindsay started studying in January 2010. To save on gas money, she switched to the Magnolia Avenue Campus, getting help with her writing from another Adult Education teacher, Tamela Wheeler.
“My issue was punctuation. I was the comma queen, just throwing them in wherever,” said Lindsay. “I must have typed up 70 essays. My husband’s strength is English. He would grade them. I told him, ‘Don’t you dare pull any punches.’ I handed him a red pen and said, ‘Grade it!’”
Lindsay studied 40-60 hours a week from January to the end of July.
“I took my time, because I was determined to do as well as I could.”
The outcome was well worth the effort: Lindsay tested out of all developmental reading and all math modules but two. She is now a Pellissippi State student in mathematics, and she is taking precalculus this semester.
“I have to say, this has been the most fun I’ve had in years,” she said. “Right now, my tentative goal is a Ph.D. I’d like to do it with as little debt as possible.
“I’ll be somewhere around 50 when I finish. But I’ll be 50 anyway. What I do with the rest of my life is totally up to me.”