May 16, 2012
2012 Graduate: Mary Lester
When Mary Lester graduated from Southland Academy in Americus in
2008, she had no idea what she wanted to do next, what she wanted
to be when she grew up. She briefly considered a career in interior
design, but after talking to her parents, she concluded that it
might not be the right time for her to travel down such a
“My parents kept telling me to think about me,” she said. “They told me that I might be a little hungry when I graduated with the way the economy is going.”
Accepting that her love for decorating would always be a part of her, even if it was not her chosen career, Lester set her dream of studying interior design to the side, temporarily, and contemplated other potential career paths, including nursing.
“I knew that I had a passion for kids,” the 22-year-old said. “So, in the back of my mind, I thought that I might like to study early childhood education.”
Once she got into the early childhood education program and began observing and working in real elementary school classrooms, Lester discovered that she had made the right decision. She fell in love with the children and helping them realize their full potential.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of hard work. People always say it’s the easiest major. Whoever said that doesn’t know what they are talking about. It took a lot of patience, and I was definitely thrown a lot of challenges along the way, but in the end, it all made me stronger.”
Lester’s first practicum experience was in a kindergarten classroom at W.G. Nunn Elementary School, a Valdosta City School System campus. She went on to complete practicums in the second grade at the city’s Sallas Mahone Elementary School and in the fifth grade at S.L. Mason Elementary School. Her student teaching experience put her back in the same second-grade classroom at Sallas Mahone Elementary School.
“I was scared to death to be in a fifth-grade classroom,” she said. “The kids that age are bigger than I am, and I was worried that I might not do very well with the more challenging curriculum. But I loved it. I felt a connection with them as learners. They have their own personalities; they kind of know where they are going and are more independent. They challenged me.”
Lester admitted that her dream job would be teaching social studies to fifth graders.
“Of course, I am very open to going wherever the jobs are,” she said with a smile. “In fact, I am still looking for a job.”
Lester graduated from VSU on Saturday, May 5, with a Bachelor of Education. She laughed when she shared that she and her friends spent many nights studying at the Odum Library, known by the students as “Club Odum.” She noted that her most memorable experience was working as a volunteer tutor with Dr. Gina Doepker, a professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Special Education and director of the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center. She was paired with a special needs child and, even though she initially questioned the process, ended up learning as much from the boy as she taught him.
“VSU was a great experience for me,” she said. “I loved it. I feel like, coming from a small, private school, you’re just not aware of what all is out there. Coming into Valdosta, it’s a good city to be in. It’s not too big or too small; it’s about two hours from my hometown. I feel like this has been where I truly found out who I am. My parents really pushed me, but over time, I realized that I wasn’t here to please my parents. I was here to please myself, to work hard, to prove something. I am proud of my accomplishments. I have a drive I didn’t know I had until I came to VSU.”