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Linda Perkins Melton is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The 68-year-old grandmother is taking online courses through UL Lafayette’s Office of Distance Learning. She reenrolled at the University for the Spring 2019 semester after almost two decades away. Melton anticipates graduating next spring.

The realization that she is closing in on her dream was driven home when she received a shiny new class ring recently during a ceremony in the UL Lafayette Student Union. Alumni and students who have completed at least 90 credit hours are eligible to get University rings.

Melton said she was thrilled to receive the symbol of her hard work. Her path to the cusp of a four-year degree hasn’t been an easy one.

Melton became a licensed practical nurse in 1986 after completing an 18-month program at James M. Frazier Sr. Vocational Technical School in Baton Rouge, La. She then set her sights on becoming a registered nurse.

A divorce thwarted those plans. Paychecks she earned as an LPN at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge took precedence over continuing her education. “I had a family to raise,” explained the mother of four children.

After her three daughters and son grew up – and she retired from Our Lady of the Lake in the mid-1990s – Melton enrolled at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.

She commuted daily with her daughter, Chrishelle Melton, during a 140-mile round trip from Darrow, La., the tiny hamlet where they lived.

But Chrishelle left school for a job “that she just could not turn down,” Linda said.

Linda was left without a way to get to her classes “because I didn’t have any transportation at that time.”

Melton gave school another shot when she enrolled in UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions in 2001. Again, she commuted from Darrow.

“Life had taken me in many different directions, but I never lost the desire to get a four-year degree,” she said.

After about three years at the University, Melton’s goal of becoming a registered nurse was derailed again. She suffered a small stroke, then two more in quick succession.

“I had a lot of weakness on my right side, so I had to be trained to walk all over again. I needed cognitive and speech therapy, too,” she said.

Doctors advised her against resuming her studies. Melton slowly resigned herself to the likelihood she would never return to college.

That changed about 17 years later, in large part at the urging of her 11-year-old twin grandchildren, Shayde Randolph and D.J. Randolph. After learning how close Melton had been to earning a bachelor’s degree, they began nudging her to return to college.

“I was hesitant. I didn’t even know if my credits were still good because I had been out of school for so long,” she said.

Melton said Shayde tracked down UL Lafayette’s phone number using an online search engine, dialed it and handed the phone to her grandmother.

Melton learned she needed only 24 more credit hours to earn a general studies degree.

Health setbacks, including a bout with breast cancer, had remained an issue for Melton. She ultimately decided she was strong enough to make one more run at a degree.

“I realized I had invested so much time and I was right at the door,” she explained.

This time, a commute would have been impossible for Melton, who lives in Mandeville, La. near New Orleans. Distance learning, however, suits her just fine.

“I have never enjoyed school like I am enjoying it now,” she said.

Photo: Linda Perkins Melton, a 68-year-old grandmother, is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree next spring. Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, recently presented Melton with her class ring during a ceremony in the UL Lafayette Student Union. Credit: Rachel Keyes / University of Louisiana at Lafayette