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Mary Garrett

Mary Garrett spent most of her life in accounting as a means to provide for her family. At 57, she decided it was time to do something for herself. So she went to college.

“I always wanted to be in the medical field and this was my opportunity,” she said. “I got my kids in school. I wanted something I could enjoy.”

Garrett started taking classes at Columbus State in 2011 while working full-time at T. Marzetti Co. She initially pursued a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology, in part, after observing hospital workers at Fairfield Medical Center tend to her mother for various issues including heart trouble and a hip replacement.

“They treated her like a queen,” she recalled. “It was unbelievable. I wanted to give back for the way they helped her.”

It had been nearly 40 years since she’d been a student — People jokingly asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She responded honestly: I’m still working on it.

While she was confident in her decision to return to school, the prospect of showing up on campus as a 57-year-old grandmother was daunting.

“I was scared,” she said. “There were a lot of young kids out there.”

But students treated her as a peer, answering her questions and inviting her to collaborate on assignments. Her teachers also helped ease the transition, often giving her words of encouragement.

Garrett, meanwhile, was tenacious and determined, said phlebotomy instructor Tywan Banks, one of her teachers.

“She was like, ‘Look, I want to soak up everything I can because this is what I want to do,’” Banks said. “She has become a true example of how, regardless of age, Columbus State could be a real opportunity for you.”

After nearly two years of juggling her full-time job with school, Garrett switched to the Multi-Skilled Health field because it worked better with her schedule and linked her with certifications she was interested in such as phlebotomy, EKG and health care management.

After her phlebotomy clinicals in 2014, she was hired by the people that started her on this path: Fairfield Medical Center.

“I had come full circle,” she said.

Garrett spent a year there before taking a job as a phlebotomist at the Southeastern Correctional Facility in August. She’ll earn her associate degree in December.

At 61, when most people begin winding down their careers, Garrett is just getting started.

How long will she continue to work?

“As long as I can get up every morning and get out of bed, I’ll keep on following it,” she said.