Never Too Old:Revere Woman Graduates from NSCC Overcoming Challenges

Trying to get through college with a learning disability and bipolar disorder is no easy task, not to mention the fact that you’re 59 years old, the mother of two grown sons, and grandmother to one. That’s one Revere woman’s story, and she’s proud to tell it.

“I wasn’t planning on walking the stage with the youngsters,” said McQuade, who will turn 60 in two months.

Longtime Revere resident Debra Shalashman McQuade challenged herself and came out on top, and she is looking forward to walking in the graduation ceremonies of North Shore Community College on May 24, where she has earned her human services degree from the college’s Accessibility Services Department. This degree will add to the two certificates she earned in youth service and introduction to mental health.

“One day something just clicked,” McQuade said. She is also dyslexic.  She was challenged to go to college by an older woman who told her she had too much time on her hands.

Then she met NSCC staff member Alena Vitvitskaya, an adaptive lab-learning specialist. McQuade said she was taught how to use technology and pushed when she wanted to quit.

McQuade, a 1977 graduate of Revere High School who also worked at the Meridian House in East Boston, completed high school with low grades, completed cosmetology school and entered the work force. She’s been a hairdresser for over 25 years at Raffaele’s in Swampscott. She’s been taking classes at NSCC for five or six years, one or two classes at a time. She’s proud that she has made the Dean’s List.

The hardest part of college for her, like many, was algebra – which she took home a B-plus as a final grade. She credits her younger brother David with getting her through. The second hardest thing to do was write a paragraph.

To help her along she was introduced to the Kurzweil 3000, a special computer software which provides support for those who struggle with literacy in the classroom, at home or in the workplace. It works by allowing students to read their material by hearing and seeing at the same time.

She also credits the use of an ECHO pen and notebook, which writes and records information.

“The software is out there to help people,” she said.

“What stopped her 40 years ago from continuing school is not stopping her now,” Vitvitskaya said.

She’s also grateful for the support of her sons Jake, who lives in Revere, and Derek who lives in Illinois with her grandson Owen who is 2 years old. McQuade is proud to see her grandson embrace the many books she has sent him; she regularly Facetimes with him and is encouraging his reading.

“I just wanted to share my story about what college has to offer for those lacking self-esteem about education,” McQuade said. “There is just a lot out there for people who think they can’t learn.

“When you motivate yourself, it’s like self-motivation to keep continuing,” McQuade said. “There are people to help you, you just have to take the first step.”

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