It’s never too late to start something new.
Aebok (pronounced A-bow) Morton has lived by this motto.
And in this season of graduations, it’s never been truer.
Morton, 50, of Ludington, Michigan, recently earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing, an achievement marked less by graduation pomp and more by circumstance amid this global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nursing has always been my career goal,” Morton said. “When I was young, I dressed up as Florence Nightingale for Halloween.”
Life events took her on a different path for a spell.
“I got married right out of high school and my husband went into the service,” Morton said. “We had three children and it was too hard right then for me to go to school. But I always knew I would do it. I never thought it was too late to start.”
As their kids grew, so did Morton’s drive and determination.
“I’ve been in the medical field for 20 years, first as an office manager for a family medicine physician, then working at a cancer clinic,” she said. “I started working at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital in 2005.”
She picked up various shifts as a nurse’s aide while going to school and completing prerequisites.
When she entered the nursing program at West Shore Community College about eight years ago, two of her three children still lived at home.
She learned early on how to balance the demands of family and academia.
“Melissa, our youngest, participated in three year-round sports, so we were traveling a lot and very busy,” she said. “At weekend soccer games, I would sit in our van and study.”
Her daughter Jessica graduated from high school in 2013 and Morton completed her RN program a year later.
“We knew it would be a struggle,” Morton said. “A lot of people have small kids when they go back to school. I could never do that. We waited until the kids were a bit older. If it wasn’t for the family support, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Sometimes you need those struggles to get motivated.”
She was the oldest person in her graduating class that year.
“Several of my son’s high school classmates actually graduated with me,” she said. “But I never felt intimidated by the fact I was older. I just knew it was important to get that education.”
Shortly after earning her RN degree, Morton began eyeing a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
“My youngest daughter graduated in 2017, so I knew it would be easier with her away at college and with so many online options that hadn’t been available to me before,” Morton said.
In 2018 she enrolled in Ohio University’s online program, chosen based on recommendations from friends.
That led to her recent graduation from Ohio University.
“I’m an ‘old new’ nurse,” she said.
And she’s not done yet.
While earning her Bachelor of Science, Morton had conversations with her managers and other leaders at Spectrum Health.
“They’ve all encouraged me to keep progressing, keep learning, keep achieving,” she said. “It must be in my genetic code, because I’m taking their advice and gearing up to start my master’s program this fall. I’m excited for it.”
This fall she plans to enter a master’s program, most likely through Davenport University, which offers online classes.
This is an important option because she’ll be working full time as she attends school. Her three children are grown but she also has four active grandchildren who demand much of her time.
“It seems I’ve been going to school my whole life,” Morton joked.
Her graduation comes amid unusual circumstances, nationally and globally.
“Here it is 2020, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, and I’m graduating again,” she said. “I’ll probably go to college until I retire!”
She says she enjoys her job at Spectrum Health, handling pre-authorizations for chemotherapy treatment.
Her energy is infectious.
“Now that I’m a nurse, I want to keep going,” she said. “Just like Florence Nightingale kept on learning and achieving, becoming a statistician, I want to keep pursuing new goals. I love to learn.”
She’s part of a Facebook group for nurses.
“Some of them ask: ‘Am I too old to go back to school?’” Morton said. “I say, ‘You’re never too old!’ It doesn’t matter your age, where you are financially, or personally. If you have a goal, you need to attain that goal, or you’ll never be happy. Now’s the time.”