The last time Nettie Baldwin delivered a graduation speech was 1957. She was a high school senior.
Forty years later, Baldwin will speak again to a group of graduating students and their guests as the student speaker at Sunday’s Commencement.
She will be the first doctoral student in recent GW history to give the student speech at Commencement, University Marshal Jill Kasle said.
“She blew everyone else away,” Kasle said. “She has tremendous presence, ability and life wisdom.”
Baldwin said she saw the chance to speak at Commencement as a challenge and she met it.
“It’s just awesome,” Baldwin said. “That’s what a young person would say.”
Baldwin said her speech focuses on the memories she has made during her two decades at GW. One of the memories she said highlights her career is the day she defended her doctoral work.
But Baldwin said her memories of the University will not end with her coursework.
“(Sunday) on the Ellipse will be one of my favorite days at GW,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin came to the University for the first time in 1976 to study in GW’s off-campus counseling program. At the time, she was a biology teacher at Lagos Senior High School in Prince George’s County, Md. Baldwin said she wanted to further her education and she became excited about counseling with the encouragement of her professors.
Baldwin said Janet Heddesheimer, associate dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, served as her mentor.
“She let me know I had a gift for counseling,” Baldwin said.
By 1978, Baldwin had earned her master’s degree in education from GW. She planned to attend graduation that February but a blizzard prevented her from being there.
“I never had that graduation,” Baldwin said. “This is an even more important graduation for me.”
Baldwin got a counseling job at Francis Scott Key Junior High School, another school in Prince George’s County.
Baldwin eventually recommended herself for a position with the Maryland State Department as a liaison on education issues. In 1991, the American Counseling Association offered to pay 80 percent of the tuition for her doctoral education if she would leave the Maryland State Department to become its assistant executive director.
In 1994, however, ACA downsized and Baldwin was asked to leave. She said she initially was hurt, but the change increased her focus on her academic work.
“As a woman of my maturity, I could have just decided this is retirement time,” Baldwin said.
She remains an active volunteer of ACA because she said a few negative experiences with an organization do not cancel out the positive ones.
Baldwin said she made sacrifices to continue her education and work at the same time. When she first decided to go back to school in 1976, she had two small children, Angela and Douglas. Baldwin said her husband and friends in the community watched her children while she went to school and work.
“She’s done a tremendous job juggling all the things women do,” said her husband, Wesley.
Now Angela is a graduate student in GW’s GSEHD with encouragement from her mother.
Nettie said her daughter’s future was not always as clear-cut as it is today.
During her freshman year of college in 1987, Angela was in a car accident that caused severe head injuries and left her unsure of what to do with the rest of her life, Nettie said. After toying with medical school, Angela decided she wanted to become a teacher. Nettie said she encouraged Angela to come to GW because the GSEHD program provides a wide array of choices.
“She’s a miracle,” Nettie said of her daughter.
Nettie said she suggested GW to her son as well. But Douglas chose to attend the University of Maryland and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. He does not seem to be thinking about GW, she said.
Today, Nettie works at Montgomery Community College as a professor of student development, teaching recent immigrants how to enter community college.
Nettie also has her own company, NNB Associates, which provides career counseling. Her husband works for her.
Nettie and Wesley have been married for 39 years. Nettie said she has been in school nearly the entire time they have been together. She said her husband will be happy to finally have a wife who is not in school.
“I’ve been a life-long student,” she said. “Every 10 years or so, I get a degree.”