Nontraditional Student Fulfills Lifelong Dreams Through Community College

SOUTH HOLLAND, IL – For as long as Marshneil Gay can remember, she had two goals she wanted to accomplish with the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters she deposited in coffee cans over the years. Now, at the age of 70, the Riverdale resident has fulfilled both of her dreams of achieving her college degree and visiting Paris, France.

“Getting a college degree has always been a sense of pride that I wanted to experience,” said Marshneil, a recent 2016 graduate of South Suburban College (SSC) in South Holland, Illinois. “My parents completed high school and provided me and my siblings with a good education, but high school was as far as they could see.”

Whenever Marshneil had the time and money, she would enroll in a class at whatever college was most convenient to her employment situation. For 47 years she worked to support her family that included five children, while putting her own goals on hold and changing plans many times along the way. As she prepared for her retirement, she decided to make good on a promise she made to herself many years before and enrolled in college.

“I knew right away that I belonged at South Suburban College,” said Marshneil. “With the advantage of so many programs and so many people who wanted to help me, there was no reason for me to fail. My goal was to study hard, ask questions, and earn good grades. I am proud to say that in May I graduated from SSC with honors and as acting president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.”

What Marshneil didn’t know was that her hard work in the classroom and as a peer leader would help her to achieve another lifelong dream. One day while studying in the Honor’s Lounge at SSC, she noticed a flyer for Study Abroad Scholarship Programs with one of the destinations being France.

“I immediately began completing the necessary application and essay, obtained references, and prepared for the interview,” said Marshneil. “To my surprise and delight, the program coordinator called me to say, ‘Marshneil, you can stop saving change, you will be going to France this summer.’ Being awarded a scholarship to study abroad was an opportunity of great magnitude, and I was humbled.”

Traveling among a cohort of students some 50 years younger, Marshneil immersed herself in all aspects of the program with her peers. “I learned first-hand the traditions, the culture and the hospitality of a great people. I saw famous works of art and places I have only viewed in textbooks or online. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime.”

Marshneil said she speaks constantly to her children, grandchildren and others “young and old” about the importance of education. You see, Marshneil has always believed in giving back to her community. She currently serves as the Civil Service Chairperson to the Village of Riverdale among many other community roles held throughout her life.

Marshneil added, “It feels so empowering when you have education – it opens your mind to the possibilities.”

Marshneil Gay received her Associate’s Degree in Community Health Sciences and hopes to help seniors with her knowledge. She is already making plans to further her education through the Community Health Worker certification program.

SSC’s Study Abroad and other scholarship programs are made possible by the South Suburban College Foundation (SSCF). The SSCF provides scholarship assistance each year to many students who otherwise would be unlikely to begin or complete their college education. Whether for a high school graduate, an unemployed resident looking for a career change, or a returning adult pursuing their college degree for the first time, the SSCF offers scholarship assistance to all traditional and nontraditional students. The Fall Scholarship Donor Drive is currently in progress. Learn more or donate online at


SSC graduate Marshneil Gay gives a presentation at Student Forum
SSC graduate Marshneil Gay, 70, of Riverdale, gives a presentation at the annual Study Abroad Student Forum last month.