Single mom Julia Livingston of Akron took a chance four years ago to break out of unfulfilling jobs.
At age 37, she headed to Northeast Ohio Medical University to study to become a pharmacist.
On Saturday, about 50 people — including her three children — who watched her journey cheered her on at NEOMED’s graduation ceremony in Akron.
“It’ll be a crowd,” Livingston said before the ceremony. “The woman who announces all the graduate’s names, she was like, `Now, when I say your name, I’m going to do a long pause for all your guests to get everything they need to get out.’”
Pharmacy school has “been a ride of ups and downs,” including her second semester of her first year, when, she said, her first-ever biochemistry class sent her into a panic.
“I was freaking out … and I’m looking at the notes and thought, `Oh my gosh, I am going to fail this semester.’”
Typically someone who studied alone, she joined a study group and buckled down. “I easily studied about 40 hours a week for that class,” passing with the equivalent of a B.
Making it easier for her than perhaps other single mothers, Livingston said, was that her children were school-aged when she entered NEOMED, in Portage County’s Rootstown Township, in 2015.
She paid for pharmacy school with a combination of loans and scholarships, including an $18,000-a-year scholarship from Medical Mutual. She worked sometimes as a pharmacy intern at Cleveland Clinic-Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, but the rigor of the program in the final year didn't allow for outside work.
Her oldest child, Cydnee, now 19, helped to take care of the two youngest children, twin boys Chris and Cordell, 15, who play varsity basketball for Akron’s Buchtel High School. Chris is considered one of the top-ranked high school freshmen basketball players in the country.
“Cydnee’s been amazing,” Julia Livingston said of her daughter, who often cooked dinner for the family.
“I always knew she was going to finish,” Cydnee said, seeing “her dedication, how much time she took to study.”
Her father, Joe Livingston, a retired Akron firefighter, and mother, Pam, pitched in too.
Julia Livingston said she hopes she'll serve as an inspiration for her children as they continue their educations.
"With NEOMED and Kent State [where she got an undergraduate degree in public health], I put forth so much effort," she said. "I hadn't taken chemistry in high school, but guess what did it. I don't care if you have to get tutors. I don't care if you have to go to the professor's office for help. I don't care if you have to study 40 hours a week, get it done."
Livingston didn’t display such dedication when she graduated from Buchtel High School in 1995.
“Oh my goodness. I wasted a lot of time,” she said, “focusing on the wrong things.”
She went to the University of Akron for a couple of semesters, but dropped out. She got various jobs, including working at Sterling Jewelers' headquarters in Akron for 10 years in the special orders department.
While at Sterling, she ran into someone she knew from high school who wondered what she’d been up to, saying, “I thought you’d be a doctor by now.”
She already had been thinking about going back to school. And the idle comment served as big-time inspiration. “I was, oh my gosh. He thought that much of me.’’
She wanted to study something in health care and eventually landed on pharmacy. It’s a medical field that will allow her to interact with people, without the blood.
She enrolled at Kent State University in 2007, getting a bachelor's degree in public health in 2013.
Two years later, she enrolled at NEOMED, where she is one of few African-Americans in her class of about 70 students.
Saturday, she received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree. She began interviewing a couple of weeks before graduation. She's confident she'll soon land a job. Eventually, she'd like to buy a home and move her family out of rental housing.
"Faith and family," she said. "The glue that stuck everything together. God — he brought me this far, and he's going to bring us even further."
Contact Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.