A photo fo a woman fromt he waist up leaning her right arm against a brick wall. Behind her is a building with white text on the side that reads \"OLIVER HALL SCHOOL OF EDUCATION\"
Adrian Petway will earn her doctorate in educational leadership from the School of Education this month. (Thomas Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2024: Adrian Petway proves it is never too late to chase a dream

With a doctorate in educational leadership from VCU, the Virginia State University administrator is ready to take the next step in her higher education career.

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When Adrian Petway decided to go back to school, she wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

Petway, who is approaching her 60th birthday, had been away from the classroom for years, busy raising her children, pursuing her career and living her life. Finally, she felt like the timing was right to pursue her doctorate in educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education.

“It was kind of intimidating in the beginning,” Petway said. “I was concerned about my age and whether I was going to be able to keep up with the coursework and the other students. There was some imposter syndrome that came up at times.”

But with hard work and some great mentors and classmates, she stayed the course.

Currently, Petway is associate vice president for budget and finance at Virginia State University, where she helps manage the university’s finances. Her goal is to serve as president of a community college, a setting that changed her life.

“I give community college the credit for my educational success,” said Petway, who earned her associate degree from Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama, before completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of South Alabama and her master’s degree at VSU. “I actually had a college professor probably 35 years ago who planted a seed in me that I would lead a school one day.”

That seed seemed dormant for years before a conversation with VSU President Makola Abdullah, Ph.D., helped it truly take root.

“Once [a seed is] planted, it’s there, and it just takes someone else to water it,” Petway said.

Another mentor has been Kimberly Bridges, Ed.L.D., an assistant professor in VCU’s Department of Education Leadership whose class taught Petway a valuable lesson.

“Your voice matters. You are in the room and at the table for a reason,” she said of the takeaway. “And that has resonated with me for the last three years, to the point that I started speaking up more at work – and in the last three years, I’ve gotten three promotions.”

Even early in the three-year doctoral program, Petway stood out “as an eager student who loved learning with and from both her instructor and her peers,” Bridges said, noting that Petway has stayed in touch throughout her educational journey.

“One of her most recent texts came at the start of this last semester, when she told me she was sitting in the library tearing up at the very idea that she was going to become a doctor of education leadership,” Bridges recounted. “It had me teary-eyed too, just reading it. [It was] so powerful, not only because she took the time to keep me informed about how she was doing but also because she always exuded such gratitude and grace and joy.”

Petway recently finished her capstone project, which she worked on with three other students for several months. After defending her dissertation, it was like all of the stress finally left her body, she said. At commencement in May, she will celebrate with her family, who are traveling from as far as Berlin, Germany, to attend.

Though she was initially nervous about being the oldest person in her cohort, Petway has loved the experience and said that she feels she will graduate fully equipped and empowered to take on future leadership opportunities    

“Lifelong friendships have been established,” she said. “For me, going back at my age and just being able to be friends with people and receiving check-ins from colleagues [every time] work was due, [I was] doing this program not by myself but with a group of wonderful people. Age is just a number."