Evelyn Lawson graduated from North Shore Community College with her associate’s degree.
By MATT DEMIRS
LYNN — No matter rain or shine, sleet or hail, you can find Evelyn Lawson on the 6:05 a.m. bus every day. Some 53-year-olds might think about winding down, but not Lawson: She is hungry to learn and that appetite isn’t getting any smaller with age.
On Thursday, Lawson graduated from North Shore Community College with her associate’s degree in criminal studies. After taking years off from when she originally started classes in 1982, she finally began walking the halls again in 2013.
Lawson’s journey wasn’t an easy route to achieve such a success. In fact, adversity challenged her at just about every corner of her life. She remained hopeful.
“My life has been really tough,” Lawson said. “I was in a lousy marriage. I was responsible for taking care of my Down syndrome sister and my sick mother.
“On the night my mother died, I was raped by my husband.”
Knowing that she deserved better, Lawson took her kids and left her husband.
Right around this time Lawson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body.
Unable to work, Lawson received a notice she had three days before she would be evicted from her home and forced into a homeless shelter with her two children. She remembers the towers of boxes around her home. She began to feel helpless.
Then came a glimmer of hope.
A woman named Kim Cole, who worked for Martha Coakley and John Kerry at the time, was able to find Lawson and her family a home.
Lawson was overcome with joy.
“I believe it was a gift from God.” Lawson said, “He was answering my prayers.”
After her family settled in their home in West Lynn, Lawson put education on the forefront, not only for herself, but her children too.
Four years later, Lawson is graduating with her son from North Shore Community College while her daughter will be graduating from Essex Agricultural and Technical High School. Her son, Andrew, will be studying engineering at University of Massachusetts-Boston, while her daughter Amanda earned a full scholarship to the University of New England in Maine. Both children earned academic honors throughout their school career. Their mother is proud that both of her children are off to four-year institutions.
Lawson will be continuing her education at Salem State University. Her dream is to become a juvenile probation officer because she believes she can make an impact on the youth.
“You can mold them because they are children,” she said. “Children sometimes come from bad homes, have bad relationships, are malnourished and are lost. They just need some nurturing and attention.”
Lawson couldn’t be happier with her decision to attend North Shore.
“The support from the faculty and staff at North Shore has been incredible,” she said. “I encourage the youth to go there. You will get an affordable education.
“Everybody in that school is an asset to your life.”
Donna Davis, an academic counselor at NSCC, worked closely with Lawson during her transition back into school.
“She’s full of life and doesn’t let any obstacles get in her way — that’s the key,” Davis said.
Lawson gives a lot of credit to Davis for taking care of her and making her feel special. Davis even went so far to schedule a day of beauty for Lawson with the cosmetology department. There she got a haircut, pedicure, manicure, and more.
“The makeover transformed her,” Davis said. “She felt and looked like a super star.”
Davis said the cosmetology department loved Lawson and she made everyone feel good about themselves.
Above all, Lawson is thankful to the staff at North Shore because they’ve made her feel more human, even when she didn’t feel like one herself.
Lawson will always remember something she was told by her math teacher, Professor Judith Carter, whom Lawson says is one of the first people who believed in her.
“I call her the gem. She was the first person to push me and believe in me.
“We were in her office doing an equation and I just couldn’t get it. After we worked on it, she stood up from the table and looked at me and said ‘Evelyn, I know you know this.’”
That’s when Lawson slowed down, stopped panicking, and focused. After a few deep breaths, she re-did the problem and got the correct answer.
“I did it,” Lawson said.
With her arms raised above her head, Professor Carter shot back.
Although Lawson’s son believes education is just as important, he acknowledges he doesn’t have the same kind of work ethic as his mother.
“I’ll come home from work at 11:30 p.m. and see my mother doing homework at the kitchen table. I’ll wake up at 6:30 a.m. for school and find her in the same place I left her,” he said. “There has been times where I’d ask her. ‘Did you even sleep last night?’’’
Although her son doesn’t necessarily know yet what he wants to be in life, he’s got one thing certain.
“I really just want to be happy.”
Lawson will miss her children as they leave the nest and go off to college, however she knows they are dedicated and prepared.
“My son wants to help people. He wants to make changes,” She said. “I’m going to miss him when he leaves. He’s my right-hand man, my best friend. He is my everything.”
Lawson believes her journey has helped her kids realize the importance of education after years of never giving up.
“I just keep my eye on the prize,” she said, “My kids know that the prize I’m talking about is my education.”
Matt Demirs can be reached at [email protected]