BOTHELL — Take the adventure, leave your comfort zone, believe in yourself and follow your dreams.
These are not only words of advice from the most senior member of the University of Washington Bothell’s 2019 graduating class, but also describe her own path to the commencement stage last month.
Fifty years removed from receiving her high school diploma from the long-dissolved Edmonds High School, Linda Ellis, 68, has earned a university degree.
“We were getting close to the end of the school year and my (classmates) would say ‘I have senioritis.’ I said, ‘Well, I do too, but not the same kind as your senioritis,’” Ellis said with a laugh.
Ellis had always planned for college to be her next step after high school. Then life happened.
Half a century later, following a successful 21-year career in insurance, a second business pursuit with her husband as a real estate appraiser, and with two daughters and now two grandchildren, Ellis resumed her education in 2014, enrolling at Edmonds Community College.
With no real goal in mind, Ellis incrementally got her schooling back on track, taking placement tests and completing requirements, as she inched her way toward a business degree from the University of Washington.
As long as she was enjoying the process, Ellis knew she’d continue working toward higher education when she started at UW Bothell in 2016.
“I consider learning a lifetime journey,” she said. “I’ve always kind of felt that way, but having been through school and learning new things every day, it’s like opening more and more doors to learn something new.”
Ellis’ resolve was swiftly tested.
Statistics — her first class of business school — was overwhelming. Not only was Ellis studying math, a subject she long loathed, but she also had to learn computer applications she knew little or nothing about.
A big “F” was the result of Ellis’ first test, a grade that left her feeling ill.
While math and tech may have been her initial undoing, Ellis, with the encouragement of her instructor, persevered.
Focusing on only what she could control, Ellis was constantly on time, prepared and participating. It wasn’t always pretty, but Ellis gutted out statistics and from there everything fell into place.
Ellis, never one to be afraid to ask for help, found allies around every corner, with teachers, peers, tutors, study groups, librarians and administrations all offering aid.
“There wasn’t any reason a person couldn’t be successful (at UW Bothell) in my view, because there was always someone out there to support you,” Ellis said. “Just look.”
Attending her courses at the Eastside Leadership Program satellite program of UW Bothell in Bellevue, Ellis had perfect attendance in every class.
“I loved every minute of it, I loved every day,” she said.
Some obstacles Ellis expected to tackle never presented themselves.
Despite not looking, talking in 20-something lingo or dressing like her peers, she never felt like an outsider. Ellis quickly became a coveted voice of reason and a desired partner for group projects.
“Whenever she talked everyone respected her,” said Stan Emert, an instructor who taught Ellis in three business classes. “(Her peers) knew she had come from a background of not just reading about it, but actually doing some of the things she talked about.”
Emert was one of two instructors to nominate Ellis for the Husky 100, a prestigious list of 100 students making the most of their University of Washington experience.
In his recommendation, Emert praised Ellis’ intuition, leadership and comprehension, predicting that her voice will continue to reverberate at the highest levels.
“I envision Linda in an executive meeting in the future, and can hear the room get quiet when she speaks,” Emert wrote.
In her senior year, while still balancing the tasks of her busy life, Ellis earned Dean’s List distinction each quarter. She finished her degree with a 3.7 grade point average.
“I’m not going to tell you it was easy. It was hard, it was really hard, but I enjoyed it,” she said.
Like many who’ve recently graduated college, Ellis isn’t quite sure what’s next.
For now, she said her next assignment will be returning to the good graces of the family and friends she may have neglected while pursuing her education. That will start with a summer trip to Iceland accompanied by her daughter and grandchildren.
Whatever adventure is next, Ellis intends for the work to be a meaningful use of the degree she describes as life changing.
“It was probably one of the very best things that happened in my life,” Ellis said. “It changed how I viewed my life, myself as a person and how I view my future.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: IanDavisLeonard.