By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Shelly Weston works daily for Anderson University.
But today, she’s looking at the college in much different shoes.
She’s one of the university’s 645 graduates. And she’s one of four in her family.
Shelly is the assessment, data and technology manager for the School of Education. Her daughter Erin Weston, brother Justin Price and cousin Kasi Gale are all graduating from various programs.
Gale said they’ve always been good friends but that the experience has “made us closer.”
When she was hired at AU five years ago, Shelly said she wanted to try and finish what she had started years ago. She attended college for a bit after high school but dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart, Rob.
“For me, obtaining my degree has always been a personal goal; a personal journey really,” she said. “It has been more about proving to myself that I could do it.”
The bachelor’s degree she’s receiving in Organizational Leadership seemed to be the best pick as it will allow her to do more with her current job. While she has an office in the School of Education, Shelly attended her classes at the Flagship Center on Anderson’s southwest side, unlike Gale and Erin.
The biggest factors in Erin’s decision to attend AU was that her mom worked there. She thought the university would be the best fit for her interests.
While she didn’t live at home during her time at AU, Erin said, it was nice to be able to visit her mother’s office on campus whenever she wanted.
Graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, she plans to move to Grand Rapids, Mich., to attend graduate school at the Van Andel Institute, a cancer and neurodegenerative disease research facility, to earn a Ph.D. in molecular genetics of human diseases.
“These last four years were some of the best years of my life, as cliche as that may sound,” she said. “I can honestly say that I have never once regretted going to AU. I have grown spiritually and intellectually. I have formed so many close friendships that I cherish, and have learned so much from professors that are dedicated to teaching the subjects they love.”
Those factors make graduating “bittersweet” as she’ll miss everyone.
Gale, who graduated with Erin from Highland High School in 2009, would occasionally run into Erin on campus and attend Chapel with her. She chose AU because she’d heard about how “incredible the School of Music was.” Gale enjoyed being in a musical ensemble all four years and performing during AU’s annual “Candles and Carols.”
She said being close to her family and knowing the faculty cared about each student kept her going. She plans to go into music event planning.
“The best thing (about AU) is knowing I’m not who I was when I came in,” Gale said. ”I’m a much stronger person now.”
Price received his bachelors from Indiana Wesleyan and decided upon AU for his Masters of Business Administration since the university has a top-ranked business schools, he said.
He didn’t attend school on Anderson’s campus, however. He works at Community Health in Indianapolis and went to the Lawrence Central school location so it was “easier to get off work and go to classes.”
Price said he has learned from his classmates’ experiences and professors, and is thankful for the support of his wife, Meghan, whom he married in September.
Shelly said her husband, Rob, was her “biggest cheerleader.”
The other three said they’re proud of Shelly for staying on task while not only working a fulltime job, but having three kids and a husband.
Price said they were all sitting together one day, talking about when they’d graduate, when they figured out they’d be doing so at the same time if they kept on track.
“No one wanted to be the one who didn’t quite make it to graduation (Saturday),” he said. “It’s given me an extra step of accountability just knowing they were going to be graduating, too.”
The AU Weston lineage won’t end with Shelly and Erin. Shelly’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, will begin AU in the fall as an elementary education major.
Elizabeth said she’s been inspired by the hard work of her family and that AU has always been a big part of her life. Not only does her mother work there, but her grandmother, Dianna Conrad, as well. Conrad has worked at AU for more than 25 years and serves as the assistant director of the physical plant.
Elizabeth spent time on campus with Erin and “fell in love” with the offerings and Christian environment, and is “looking forward to starting this new chapter in my life.”
Shelly’s proud of her daughters and hopeful she may finish her master’s in time to graduate with Elizabeth. Erin’s biggest advice to her younger sister is to get involved and have fun.
“College is an experience, not just an education,” she said.
Find Dani Palmer on Facebook and @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.