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When legacy becomes inspiration

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How Andrea McClasky-Woods’ grandmother inspired her to go back to school — and graduate summa cum laude   

Woman, decorated in stoles, poses with diploma.
Andrea McClasky-Woods, decorated in stoles and cords, smiles as she holds her diploma in the air. One of her stoles has pictures of her grandmother, Betty Anthony, sown into it. (Photo provided/ Andrea McClasky-Woods)

Almost 40 years after Andrea McClasky-Woods’ grandmother, Betty Anthony, went back to school for her G.E.D., McClasky-Woods was inspired.   

That drove McClasky-Woods to return to college after 30 years. Now, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Martin University.  

Before going to Martin, McClasky-Woods attended Tennessee State University (TSU), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for two and a half years.   

“My experience of going to Tennesee State University was probably one of the most awesome experiences in my life,” McClasky-Woods said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”   

At TSU, McClasky-Woods, who said she loved the HBCU environment, was actively involved. She was part of the student government, president of the pep club, and more.   

But, due to the cost of attending school out of state, her time at TSU was cut short.   

So, McClasky-Woods came back to Indiana, where she worked for almost 26 years as a member of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.  After that, she stayed within the realm of criminal justice, working five years at the prosecutor’s office.    

Then, COVID-19 hit.   

“COVID caused so much,” McClasky-Woods said. “During that time of COVID… I was like, ‘You’re going to make this your final attempt to see if you can get in somewhere and complete your degree.’”  

At the same time, McClasky-Woods said she was looking for a way to honor her grandmother, Anthony, who had passed. She found herself looking at an Indianapolis Recorder article about Anthony going back to school to get her G.E.D. — something Anthony did while raising nine kids and living on a fixed income.   

An older woman poses for a photo.
Betty Anthony, Andrea McClasky-Woods’ grandmother, poses for a photo. (Photo provided/ Andrea McClasky-Woods)

It was there, in her beloved grandmother, that McClasky-Woods found her inspiration.   

“My grandmother was very much a vital part of my life,” McClasky-Woods said. “I considered her, even after her death at (age) 93, one of my best friends.”   

The love her grandmother showed her is something that had a lasting effect.   

“She loved me at my worst, and cheered me at my best,” McClasky-Woods said. “And that was an encouragement to see that right there, that after she began motherhood as a teenager, married at a very young age and raised nine kids, decided at the age of 65 ‘I just want to go get my GED.’”  

A woman poses with an older woman beside a tree.
Andrea McClasky-Woods smiles with her grandmother, Betty Anthony, in a photo. (Photo provided/ Andrea McClasky-Woods)

 

McClasky-Woods noted that Anthony got her GED for herself. By getting her degree at Martin, McClasky-Woods did the same.    

“When you achieve a personal goal, it’s not for nobody else,” McClasky-Woods said. “It’s not for boasting, not even for a career.”    

What she gained is something that McClasky-Woods said is invaluable. 

“Education is one thing, as a minority, that they can’t take from you,” she said.    

For her education, McClasky-Woods chose to attend Martin University, Indiana’s only Predominantly Black Institution. She said the way the university felt reminded her of her time at TSU.   

But, once at Martin, McClasky-Woods still faced adversity.  

On top of facing personal struggles, McClasky-Woods underwent the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) process. The PLA is an assessment that allows students to earn up to 60 college credit hours for career experience.   

For the PLA, McClasky filled out a 100-page portfolio, hoping to get the maximum credits for her 30 years of career experience.   

Instead, she got only six.   

“It was extremely discouraging,” McClasky-Woods said, noting that the disparity was due to external standards and not Martin University.   

But, drawing influence again from her grandmother, McClasky-Woods was undeterred.   

“If the race is not given to the swift nor the strong, it’s going to the ones that endure to the end,” she said, referencing one of her favorite Bible verses.

This past May, McClasky-Woods graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and minor in psychology.

Her accolades don’t end there. She was also part of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society and on both the dean’s and president’s lists.   

In recognizing her achievements, McClasky-Woods turned again to her grandmother.   

Woman in black poses alongside a woman in a blue shirt
Andrea McClasky-Woods stands with her grandmother, Betty Anthony, in a picture. (Photo provided/ Andrea McClasky-Woods).

In the 1987 Indianapolis Recorder article, her grandmother said, “It can be done. You can learn again.”   

“I’ve lived that,” McClasky-Woods said with a laugh.  

When McClasky-Woods graduated, she did so with a photograph of her grandmother sewn into her stole.   

On that stage, she continued a legacy, alongside her grandmother who inspired her along the way.   

Contact Indianapolis Recorder Intern Kayla Barlow at kaylab@indyrecorder.com. This story includes additional reporting by Garrett Simms.

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