A father's poignant reflection on a life without regrets sparked Patti Kerber to go back to school at age 47 for a Bachelor of Arts degree in teaching.
Kerber, who is 54, will graduate from Roosevelt University Friday, May 4. She remembers the day in June 2005 when her 93-year-old father said, "If I die tomorrow, I can look back on my life with no regrets."
"It caused me to look back on my own life and to realize that my biggest regret was not having a college degree and following my dream of becoming a teacher," recalls Kerber of Arlington Heights, who enrolled at Harper College in August 2005.
To say the journey has been difficult for Kerber would be an understatement. For starters, the stay-at-home mother of four hadn't been to school in more than two decades.
Her father passed away while Kerber was at Harper in April 2006. Then, her mother, diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2011, died that same year during Kerber's second year in elementary education at Roosevelt's Schaumburg Campus.
A month after that, Kerber's 16-year-old son unexpectedly developed Super Ventricular Tachycardia, a life-threatening condition in which the heart races uncontrollably, landing her son in and out of hospitals many times on an emergency basis.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride and, to be honest, I was ready a lot of times to just hang the whole thing up," said Kerber, who has been inducted into Roosevelt's Franklin Honor Society for stellar academic achievement.
"If it weren't for my family telling me not to quit, I wouldn't be walking across the Auditorium Theatre stage for my diploma," she said.
The first in her family and among four siblings to get a college degree, Kerber wants others to know it's never too late to pursue their dreams.
"There were many times that I felt I couldn't continue, but the College of Education has been wonderful, the professors I've had are wonderful and the young girls I was in class with always made me feel comfortable and welcome," she said.
In fact, the only thing that could be better for Kerber is if her father had been alive today to see the graduation.
"I really wish both he and my mother could have been there to see me graduate," said Kerber, who is currently finishing her student teaching in a fourth-grade classroom at Lakeview Elementary School in Hoffman Estates.
Sharon Grant, who has been Kerber's professor for field experiences, said Kerber has been a standout student.
"One of the most impressive things is that regardless of what's gone on in her life, Patti has never asked for any special consideration. She truly stands out as someone who is dedicated and focused on kids and their learning, and I think she will be an outstanding teacher," said Grant.
Kerber's four sons, sisters and nieces are expected to celebrate the graduation with her May 4 at the Auditorium Theatre.