By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Louie Dearman had tried higher education before, attending Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College in his younger years, but he never got far.
“I was working full time, as well as going to school,” Dearman said, “so in my teenage years, I took my time off and enjoyed it, instead of using it to study.”
The Tupelo resident was 55 when he got a piece of mail that he didn’t think was meant for him.
“It started out as a big joke,” he said. “I got a card: Come to Ole Miss day for students. I thought I’d go check it out just for something to do, next thing I know, I was making plans to go back to school.”
That was 2009, and by 2010 he’d earned an associate’s degree in social work from ICC’s Tupelo campus, but it wasn’t easy.
Three times, he hit a wall and wanted to quit, and three times, he went to Vickie Cochran, psychology instructor, for help.
“When I got my diploma, I told her, ‘You signed this,’” Dearman said.
But Cochran refuses to take credit where it isn’t due.
“Every time a student succeeds, they deserve the credit,” she said. “Louie is the one who stuck with it and made the decision to stay.”
She said Dearman brought a crucial ingredient whenever he went to class: Resilience.
“Louie is there every day and trying his best,” Cochran said. “That’s what you want from any student. I tell them perfect isn’t the goal. It’s making improvements. That’s what life’s about.”
After getting his degree from ICC and while still working at the ICC Resource Center, Dearman joined an online program at Mississippi University for Women. It had its challenges, too.
“I said, ‘I’m not interested in taking math online,’” Dearman said. “Dr. Mark Bean said, ‘Your instructor will help you.’ I said, ‘How can you be sure?’ He said, ‘I’m the instructor.’”
Bio Statistics was a brain teaser, but Dearman watched his online lessons over and over until he learned the key concepts. That stick-to-it approach earned him a bachelor’s degree in public health in 2013.
Now, the 61-year-old is making a habit out of higher education by pursing a master’s degree in public health from MUW.
He’s put in a few all-nighters to get his studies done over the years, and a vacation from his job usually means he has more time to invest in class work.
It hasn’t been a one-man operation. His wife, Charlotte, has been instrumental to his success, as have teachers like Cochran and Bean.
“At my age, you can’t play. You have to get finished here. I’m serious about my schooling,” Dearman said. “Anybody can do it, and by having it online, that’s a good way. I’d recommend it to just about everyone.
“Somebody my age knows what it takes to get there,” he continued. “I just say it’s never too late. Put God first and all things are possible. It can be done.”