Southern Belle, redefined. Going back to college as an adult is not an easy choice. But for Connie Stillinger ’14 it was, by far, one of the best decisions she’s ever made. At the age of 53, after years of putting others first, Stillinger decided it was her time “to grow and learn and experience this grand adventure first hand.”
Stillinger said, “What I wanted was the education I never completed. I wanted an environment where I could learn and feel safe. A place that would encourage and promote my love of learning. I’ve found such a place at Converse College.” In the fall of 2011, Connie enrolled in Converse II, a unique program for women aged 24 and older, that allows them the same opportunities as regular undergraduate students, but with a simplified application procedure and reduced fees.
Though Connie was initially apprehensive that she may not be able to keep up with other students, her confidence grew with time. She was also concerned that she might be perceived as selfish, or even “ridiculous” for returning to school in her fifties. But Connie knew this was her time, and Converse was the perfect fit. In a Facebook post, Connie said, “Women like me (non-traditional students) who have yearned for the stimulation and acquiring of knowledge that Converse provides so well, will not find a better school to help them achieve this goal.”
For the next three years, Stillinger made the two-hour drive from her home to Converse, her new home away from home. For most semesters, Stillinger would stay locally for two or three nights with friends, depending on her class schedule. She would spend the next three days in classes, soaking up the nurturing, scholarly environment she’d been longing for. For her final semester Stillinger made the two-hour drive round trip three times a week, clocking more than 600 miles every week on her odometer.
“Converse College is a truly extraordinary place. There is a history here. Of nurturing, empowering and EDUCATING women in all the ways that matter.”
Connie never regretted a moment of her time at Converse. She wrote about her experience on her blog: “Converse College is a truly extraordinary place. This is a women’s school and so very different from a public coed university in all ways. There is a history here. Of nurturing, empowering and EDUCATING women in all the ways that matter. All the undergraduate classes are just women.”
Connie started her transition back into academia slowly, taking two courses a semester. As her confidence in her skills and abilities grew, she gradually increased her workload. “I wasn’t sure how I would adapt to school after being away for so many years,” She said. “ I worried that I might not be able to “keep up” with young, quick and very bright minds. Working 36 hours straight through each weekend is quite taxing and I wondered if I could do that and then drive two hours to Spartanburg.”
The “women first” environment at Converse gave Stillinger a healthy place to learn. She flourished with the support provided by a women’s-only college. “It’s a safe environment where I can voice my opinions and thoughts without being ridiculed or being treated in a condescending manner,” Stillinger said. “Voicing my views and thoughts is actually encouraged, and others respond in a thought-provoking manner.”
Connie thrived as a Creative and Professional Writing student. In fact, her very first submission for publication was accepted in less than two weeks. Her essay, “Let the Honey Soak Through” was accepted for publication by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. “My family has a marvelous history of storytelling,” she said in a 2013 article for Converse College. “We don’t hide our crazy people in our attic, they’re the ones who sit on the porch and wave to you when you go by.” Connie’s underlying love for telling stories, and support from her professors in the English department was the perfect combination. She graduated in May 2014, Cum Laude, with a BFA in Creative and Professional Writing.