Commencement Chronicles: Graduates Who Inspire
Cedar Crest College Student to Graduate After Two Decades in Classroom
Jessica Baltimore has worked at PPL Corporation, an energy supplier headquartered in Allentown, for 32 years, an exception in this day and age when people tend to change jobs every few years. Perhaps just as surprising, she has been going to college for most of that time in her quest to earn a bachelor’s degree. On May 14, the Cedar Crest College student will realize her dream.
“In the beginning, it was really more of a challenge for me. I would be the first daughter of my mom’s to have a college degree (out of seven children, all girls),” said Baltimore, who began raising a family shortly after high school. “Oh my goodness—I am over the moon. I cannot believe it. When I started, I was in my early 30’s and now I’m in my early 50’s. It’s been a ride, but it’s been a really great one. These last two years have really been extraordinary for me.”
The last two years have been extra special for Baltimore because up until that time, she was taking classes without tracking her progress toward a degree. It wasn’t until that point that she realized she was getting close to fulfilling her credits for a degree in business administration, as well as the economics minor.
“I would keep in touch with my adviser, (Assistant Professor of Business) Chris Duelfer, and one day I said to him, ‘I don’t know when I’ll ever get this done,’” she said. “He told me, ‘Jessica, you only need so many credits.’ It wasn’t until then I realized I was almost done. I began doubling up on classes to complete my degree.”
The Whitehall resident began her college career at a community college in Harrisburg in the early 1990’s, and moved to Allentown with her job in 1992. She began taking courses at Cedar Crest four years after moving to the area, and she has never looked back. She said she took courses for self-fulfillment of a personal goal, but that they have also been of great help to her at her job—where she supervises a help desk.
“A lot of what I’ve learned I’ve been able to actually apply in real life at my job. That makes it that much more exciting and valuable for me in my job. Pursuing higher education has been instrumental in past promotions at my company,” Baltimore said.
At one point, attending Cedar Crest College was a family affair, as Jessica was joined by her daughter, Tonesha, who graduated in the mid-2000s.
“It was great. We would do homework assignments together and help each other out. She even had a class previously that I was taking, so she was able to give me some pointers,” said Baltimore. “She lives in New York now, and she’s coming home next week for the graduation celebration.”
She encourages adults who are considering advancing their education to take a course or two and see if returning to school feels right.
“After being in the working world and coming back to school, you realize how important it is to get higher education. When I came back I was totally focused. I found it exciting being exposed to things I would never have been exposed to on my own,” she said. My experience at Cedar Crest has been remarkable. I’ve been very fortunate to have very good teachers. (Assistant Professor of Business) Arlene Peltola is awesome. She is definitely a great teacher and so inspiring, so encouraging. I just learned so much from her.”
The teacher was equally impressed with her pupil’s intelligence and persistence.
“Jess is one of those Cedar Crest students who engages both her professor and the rest of the class in a rich discussion each and every time she raises her hand to contribute,” said Peltola. “Her likable personality and perseverance make her a wonderful CCC graduate, and I see great things ahead for her.”
Scorched Home Can’t Douse Spirits of this Cedar Crest College Grad
Krystina Bailey was on the way to her 1 p.m. psychology class at Cedar Crest College on March 30 when she got a frantic call from her younger brother. The family’s home in Slatington was on fire. Bailey got in her car and called her sister while rushing home. She was concerned that her grandmother might be trapped inside the house.
“I was very scared on my way home, but it turned out that the mailman was on the block already when the fire started and he helped her out of the house,” said Bailey, recalling that chilling Wednesday afternoon when five homes were evacuated.
Once she realized none of her family members were injured in the blaze, she was left to deal with the daunting reality of the situation: Here Bailey was, a social work major six weeks from graduation, with virtually nothing left of her longtime home and possessions. Family members also had to split up and stay with friends and family for a couple of weeks, which added stress.
“School is very important to me. The fire posed a big problem to finishing out my semester and my college career because I had literally lost everything—school books, notebooks, notes, my laptop, and my previously saved documents, clothing, shoes, glasses, contacts, etc.—in that fire,” she said. “I didn’t even have a pen to write with anymore. The only school material I had on me was the folder I had for that psychology class. Everything else was gone.”
With the aid of the community at large, and her Cedar Crest College family, Bailey has been able to replace her school books and supplies and graduate this May—despite all of the obstacles.
“I was able to overcome these challenges through the amazing help of my friends, family and neighbors. Very generous donations came to our family from all different directions,” she said. “My friends at Cedar Crest College were amazing as well, collecting money and donations for me. It was really great that the Cedar Crest community were able to come together to help me and my family.”
The Cedar Crest community purchased Bailey a gift card for a local retail chain, with which she bought some essentials including clothes, bed linens, shampoo, and a host of other items. The faculty was also instrumental in helping her catch up on her studies during the stressful time.
“My professors were awesome in working with me. They all told me I had nothing to worry about, that I had plenty of time to get my things in. Whatever worked best for me, they were willing to work around deadlines,” she said. “I am actually the first of my siblings to go to college and finish. I needed to do this not only for my family, but for me, too. I want to make a difference in the world.”
Associate Professor of Social Work Kathleen Boland, Ph.D., said Bailey’s willingness to tackle her challenges head on was instrumental in helping her to graduate on time.
“Krystina is a student who is serious about her education, even calling her social work professors on the day of the house fire to let us know of the fire and that she may not make it to class,” said Boland, who is Bailey’s senior adviser. She said psychology faculty members Diane Moyer, Ph.D., Micah Sadigh, Ph.D., and nursing faculty member Lisa Lacko, MSN, were among those who gave extra to help make it work. “She was very motivated to continue her education and she presented us with a plan to complete her work. With her so strongly motivated, we were able to work with all her professors to come up with a plan in order to have her graduate with her class.”
The Baileys haven’t decided yet whether to rebuild their house or buy one in another location. They are currently staying in a rented house a few minutes from their former residence. Either way, Krystina knows the time has come to begin the next chapter of her life. She is currently seeking employment, and hopes to get a job doing social work at a nursing home or hospital.
“I have loved my years here at Cedar Crest. I have created a lot of great memories and made great friends here. I have received an amazing education here,” she said. “Graduation is exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m excited that I’ll be able to go out and experience the world differently but at the same time, I’m not exactly sure what to expect. It’s exciting, but scary.”