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When Latonia Thomas earned her associate’s degree, she had a three-day party. Her family, co-workers, church family, classmates, and friends all came by to celebrate with her.
Part of the excitement was that Latonia’s birthday was the day before her graduation on Aug. 17, 2012. But most of it was because everyone knew how hard – and how long – she’d worked to pursue her dream of earning a degree in law enforcement. Thomas had started studying in 1995.
“I knew that I wanted this degree,” Thomas said. “I was just trying to figure out how to make it happen.”
“It took longer than I expected, but I got it and that’s the main thing,” she said.
Thomas became employed by the State of Ohio in 2000 and today is a Clerk 3 at Opportunities for Ohioans for Disabilities, formerly the Rehabilitation Services Commission. Immediately after becoming a state employee, she began taking classes at Columbus State Community College towards her associate’s degree in law enforcement/criminal justice, using her Union Education Trust benefits.
“I’m fascinated with this law field, the thought of me being in the position of helping somebody and making a difference,” Thomas said. “I want to help people who don’t have a voice, are looked over or taken advantage of. I want to be a helper, a protector.”
Thomas says that because of UET’s Career Improvement Program, she was able to go to school every quarter, taking required classes as they were offered. She graduated with honors with a 4.0 grade point average. Her hard work had paid off.
“This program [UET] was awesome and it really helped,” Thomas said. “I can’t imagine having access to all this education and not taking advantage of it.”
Now credentialed with the degree, Thomas is looking to advance her career in a different role with the state.
“There are not a lot of opportunities in the current job I have, which is why I’m looking to broaden my horizons and move into my field of study,” Thomas said. “I’m looking for an opportunity.”
Her plans don’t stop there. Once she has that new job, Thomas wants to continue her education and earn her bachelor’s degree. She’s been accepted at all three colleges she applied to and now is trying to decide which best fits her needs and goals.
“I have dreams of being a good manager, a good supervisor,” Thomas said. “I think if I stay with my plan that will happen.”
Working hard towards her goals is important to Thomas. When people told her that it seemed like she was in school all the time and were amazed that she never complained, Thomas told them that it’s important to set goals that are doable and then reach them.
“I believe everyone should be doing something to empower themselves,” Thomas said. “You have to be on top of your game, if you want to excel. To be able to compete, you can’t be a slacker. You have to put forth effort.”
Thomas credits all the people who came by to congratulate her on her graduation for being her support network and encouragers.
“This degree isn’t just about me,” Thomas said. “It’s about me using it to help people around me, to do positive things in my community and the world around me.”
“God made this dream possible for me and I am humbled and grateful.”