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Clark Student Spotlight: Finding Hope After Lifetime of Hardship

Marilyn Stewart poses for a portrait. Stewart is studying addiction counseling so she can help people. (Theresa Matthiesen/The Independent)

By Theresa Matthiesen – Reporter

Most Clark students are under 30, exploring their options for education and careers. However, if you walk the campus, you’ll see many who don’t fit that mold. A few students share their stories.

Editor’s note: this article contains a graphic description of suicidal thoughts, which may be disturbing for readers who are sensitive about or triggered by mentions of suicide. The Southwest Washington Crisis Line can be reached at (800) 626-8137.

Marilyn Stewart, 71, said she found herself at the lowest point in her life last year. Feeling like no one cared, Stewart loaded a gun, pointed it at her temple and placed her finger on the trigger. Glancing out the window, she noticed her personalized license, HesRisn.

“I thought, You stupid woman, what are you doin’?” Stewart said. She set the gun down.

In November, she felt compelled to go back to school.

“I felt like I was supposed to be doing more,” she said. “I’d been praying, please give me a sign.’” She received an email from an online university, which explained the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs’ Chapter 35 program which covers tuition, fees and a living stipend for children and spouses of veterans.

Stewart started addiction counseling classes in Winter quarter. “I want to help other people,” she said. “So they don’t go 71 years and be messed up.”

After spending 10 years in retirement, meeting friends for coffee, sewing umbrellas and volunteering, she said, she was excited for something new.

“I was enjoying it,” she said. “This is a better time, though. I love education.

Stewart’s struggles didn’t end when she started Clark. Six weeks into Winter quarter her hip began aching. She said she was diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica, a disease that causes stiffness and aching.

“I couldn’t comb my hair, couldn’t drive, couldn’t dress,” she said.

Stewart missed three days of classes. “I wasn’t on medication yet,” she said. “I was crying. I was in so much pain.”

Disability Support Services provided chairs to help Stewart sit and stand more easily. Kelly Fielding, Stewart’s psychology professor, also made accommodations. Because PMR is most painful in the morning, Stewart said, Fielding offered a class at noon and asked a classmate to email Stewart the notes.

[Fielding] is a gem,” Stewart said. “He’s a great teacher besides having a heart.”

Stewart said education doesn’t come easy for her, and her husband asked why she hasn’t quit.

“I’m not going to quit,” she said. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The Lord’s gonna use me and I wanna see how he’s going to do that. I want to see the end of the story.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story erroneously said that Stewart’s email was from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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