LeMoyne-Owen College awarded 156 bachelor’s degrees to graduates on Saturday, May 12. Many of the scholars who walked across the stage have been on an arduous four-year tract to attain their college diploma.
But Alison Turner has been on a 41-year journey to attain her first college degree through bouts with injury, pregnancy and personal loss. Saturday marked her completion of two bachelor’s degrees and one associate degree.
On the eve of graduation, just before rehearsal, Turner, 59, said the prospect of moving forward with this milestone in life is still nerve-wracking, even after several decades as a mother, wife and professional.
“It’s exciting. It may be scary. I’m not trying to look at the scary part. Right now, it’s exciting and it’s interesting,” Turner said.
“I’m just going to wait and see what happens. I’m going to make some things happen, but some things are starting to happen that are surprising me.”
Turner garnered her two bachelor’s degrees in music and in business administration.
“People think that the music degree and the business degree are separate things,” Turner said. “In my mind, they’re not.”
Playing instruments while singing and competing in chorus since a little girl, Turner hopes to be able to merge her love of song with entrepreneurship. She says she’s already got her fingers crossed regarding a position on the board of trustees for a local musical troupe.
After graduating from Hamilton High School in 1978, her education at then-Memphis State University was derailed by chronic migraines.
“I graduated from high school with honors, but some of my grades at U of M would make you think I couldn’t read – because of the migraines,” Turner said.
In 1982, Turner joined the Air Force, hoping that she could earn a living while giving school another shot.
On the first day, she fainted.
“I’ve never fainted before that day or after that day,” Turner said. “But that one day, I passed out.”
After two weeks in the Air Force, doctors discovered she was pregnant with her first child. Turner was honorably discharged.
The new mother decided the best decision was to start working and providing for her family. She started her own insurance business and eventually founded a mortgage company, as well.
In the coming years, she’d have two more attempts at earning her degree.
After a promising start at Christian Brothers University in 1989, Turner was ordered to bed rest in her second pregnancy. Later, Turner tried online classes, but dropped her course load following the death of her mother.
In 2013, she settled into LeMoyne-Owen, the institution that had always been in her backyard, growing up in South Memphis.
“I live in this neighborhood on College Street. I call myself a college girl who lives on College Street. Sometimes, I’d walk to school,” Turner said.
“I wanted to come to LeMoyne and experience my community completely.”
Although her migraines persisted, she started business administration classes in night school with other non-traditional students. Eventually, her childhood passion led her to the music department’s daytime classes.
“I got the chance to interact with 18- and 19-year-olds. I was in classes with teenagers, really. But, it really didn’t faze me,” Turner said.
“I think the only thing (that got to me) was that I got a lot of (people calling me) ‘Ms. Allison, Ms. Allison.’ ”
Though she still regards her brief tenures at other local universities, she said LeMoyne-Owen felt more like “family.”
“There’s nothing better than experiencing one-on-one interaction your teachers and when people know your name. I mean, when people really know your name. Not just my name, because I’m the oldest thing in the class,” Turner said.
“When you see them know all the other students’ names, or you see them saying, ‘Hey,’ to somebody way over there, in the cafeteria, in the bookstore. People know you. It’s a good thing.”
Even while at LeMoyne-Owen, Turner experienced circumstances that could’ve derailed her most recent attempt at graduating. While in school, she had one surgery on her shoulder and two foot surgeries.
“I live in this neighborhood on College Street. I call myself a college girl who lives on College Street. … I wanted to come to LeMoyne and experience my community completely.”
But she said these didn’t hinder her as much as her fear of performing for her senior recital.
“I think my music degree was a bit harder than my business degree,” she said.
To prepare for the recital, she had to learn traditional German song, “An die Musik.”
“I had to do it all by memory. That was hard, because those words didn’t necessarily mean anything to me, but I had to push through,” Turner said.
“My German sounded like some Southern, South Memphis German. I had to work on that.”
Though she protested, and nearly quit, she finally sang her solo in front of a small audience. Among the crowd of friends, family and instructors, were the custodians and security staff who turned a blind eye to Turner’s after-hours practices in academic buildings.
“That was the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) experience – everybody working together to help you accomplish your goal.”
Turner said she really can’t pinpoint much of a reasoning for her persistence through the years.
“I don’t think I can explain it in any words other than I always wanted to do it,” she said.