Every year, students drop out of the education system due to life circumstances, parenting challenges, substance abuse, and other obstacles. It takes a special kind of grit for them to return and finish their degree. This is one of four profiles of reentry students who refuse to give up.
From celebrating life’s triumphs to enduring its tragedies—both personal and shared—Brandon Wright has faced plenty of both. So when the 36-year-old reentry student graduates in fall 2021, he hopes the pendulum is finally starting to swing in a new direction.
“Earning my degree will show that it matters to have a goal and to not give up,” said the accounting major. “It will mean that I worked hard, made sacrifices, and kept going when it was tough. It will hopefully be a meaningful story that I can tell my kids one day.”
After graduating from high school, Wright began an oft-repeated cycle of attending community college and pausing his education to support himself financially. Attending school part time, two classes a semester at most, made finishing feel always out of sight.
Three times Wright enrolled in classes at Butte College, considering disciplines ranging from corporate finance to multimedia, and three times he stopped.
Wright wavered between working and pursuing a field of study he felt would provide long- term stability for his wife and son. One job he enjoyed most was bookkeeping for a garden center, and as he learned more about accounting, the career of a certified public accountant appealed to him in many ways.
“The firms support you and it’s a very collaborative environment,” he said. “Even though it sounds like a bunch of nerds sitting around with their calculators, there’s a lot of camaraderie.”
Supported by his wife, both personally and financially, and finally with a clear focus, Wright returned to Butte College in fall 2017 with a goal of eventually transferring to Chico State.
During Wright’s penultimate semester at Butte in fall 2018—taking a full load of 19 units— the Camp Fire ravaged his community. Wright and his family lost their Paradise home and were forced to move back to Chico.
Amid the emotional devastation, financial challenges loomed once again. But he persevered with his studies, finding the structure of classes helped him focus amid the chaos.
A few months later, tragedy struck again when Wright’s father died unexpectedly. As he helped his mother, he felt even more strongly the need to complete his education—for himself and his father, who earned his own college degree in his mid-30s from Sacramento State.
“He was proud that I was pushing through and doing well, so graduating is something I can do for him,” Wright said.
Last year, among all of the ups and downs of his collegiate journey, he was awarded an Osher Reentry Scholarship. The funds allowed Wright and his family some flexibility in their budget while he continued his march toward his degree—and the peace of mind that goes with it.
“Between my wife’s job and my part-time job and my grants, we were just scraping by to pay for books and school,” he said. “Now I don’t feel like I have to hit the monthly budget exactly each time—it gives us a little breathing room. It’s taken a lot of teamwork to balance this, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”
The peace of mind has also helped Wright excel in his classes. He continues to impress his faculty as someone who is truly engaged, dedicated, and motivated.
“I could tell from the very beginning that he would be a great addition to the community of the classroom, and he was,” said professor Katie Oesau. “He sees value in everything in his college journey and helped build that sense of co-learnership in our classroom.”