At age 60, ECU student believes it’s never too late

Karen Knight always knew she wanted to further her education after receiving a degree in 1982. Now after nearly 40 years, this grandmother is doing just that.

Knight is working toward a Bachelor of Science in industrial distribution and logistics at East Carolina University — all while maintaining a full-time job.

Nearly 40 years after obtaining her first collegiate degree, Karen Knight has returned to college at ECU at age 60 to get her second. (ECU photo by Rhett Butler)

“Going back to school has been on my bucket list for over 30 years,” Knight said.

It was her daughter, Kia, a 2018 ECU graduate who is now enrolled in graduate school, who told her the time had come to cross getting that degree off her list.

“Last year, I was talking to my youngest daughter and she asked me what was I waiting for, retirement?” Knight said. “It struck me hard because when I retire, I had planned to do a lot of traveling. I prayed about it and now I have one less item on my list.”

Knight grew up in Washington, D.C. She obtained a degree in mortuary science in 1982 from the University of the District of Columbia and moved to Greenville to work in the funeral home business. She’s also been working as a quality control coordinator at RTI Surgical in Greenville for nearly 24 years.

The 60-year-old is a mother of five children, grandmother of 23 and a great-grandmother as well.

Once the decision to go back to school was made, Knight had to look at a major and decided on distribution and logistics in the College of Engineering and Technology.

“I wanted to further my education in the quality control field. Since I could not find anything remotely close that was of interest to me, I began to research more and decided to look at engineering,” she said. “At one point in my career at my job, I worked in the logistics and distribution department. I read what the degree offered and decided to give it a try. I also took into consideration my age and the fact that I had been out of school for so long, so I went with the degree that I had the most training and knowledge in.”

Knight said she has received a lot of support in her return to school.

“My friends and family have been so awesome. They fully support me all the way,” she said. “My partner in life (David) has been my biggest push. He is always telling me that I can do anything I put my mind to. Whenever I find myself struggling, he is always there picking me up, holding my hand and putting me back on the right track. My children, family and friends are constantly praying for me, and the words of encouragement from them are what keep me going.”

As a distance education student, Knight doesn’t need to make her way to campus, but that doesn’t make balancing work, family and her education any easier.

“It has been a struggle — but a worthwhile struggle,” she said. “When I was younger, I could work off three hours of sleep and never miss a beat. It’s a totally different story now. Working and studying have crossed paths in more than one way or the other. I have a very hectic lifestyle. I’m not complaining because as I have said before, I love challenges, and this is one of my biggest challenges in life.

“My job and family are very understanding with my new path in life. I sometimes must give up date nights, and my partner has been so loving about that situation. He encourages me to do what I must do because he is not going anywhere. When I begin to feel overwhelmed, I take a step back and revamp my schedule and I move on.”

Through her journey, she said she’s learned at least one valuable lesson.

“I have found out that the statement, ‘You are never too old to learn’ is so very true,” Knight said. “I surprised myself as to how I had to condition my mind and body to adjust to studying again. It is a challenge, but I love to tackle challenges.”

She said others in her situation should not shy away from the challenge of returning to school.

“If you are serious and the passion is in place, go for it. Do not second-guess yourself. You can do it,” she said. “Just keep in mind that the road is not going to be easy. In the end, it will be worth it.”

As a member of Holy Trinity United Holy Church of America in Greenville, she draws inspiration and strength through her faith to accomplish her goals.

“I am so grateful to God for giving me the mindset, energy and the know-how to do what I do,” she said. “It is a passion for me to achieve my goal of receiving my BS degree. Never relax and settle for the easy things in life. The easier the task, the less foundation is built. Challenge more complex things in life to obtain. Struggles in life are a learning process, and as you learn, you begin to build a foundation. Each step toward tackling challenges becomes the platform of building on a strong foundation. A solid foundation is hard to break.

“One of my favorite scriptures, Philippians 4:13, says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That scripture is my motivation. I start my day with prayer and meditation guidance. I have been doing this all my life, and this is what has kept me sane and going. Never give up. Never go for the easy things in life. If you want to achieve in life and feel good about your achievement, never say never. Just remember Philippians 4:13.”