A lifelong lesson

With graduation only days away, one student reflects
on the long and winding path that brought her to MU
Monday, December 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:03 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

When Sheryl Chase began attending Stephens College in 1965, she had no major in mind and just wanted to go to college because “it was the thing to do.” Now, 40 years later, she is preparing to graduate Saturday from MU with an undergraduate degree in English.

Although she has had a successful career, a world of experiences and a wealth of friends, Chase considers getting her degree one of her greatest life accomplishments.

“It’s something that’s been holding me back,” she said.

What ultimately brought Chase back to college was the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She was working in Manhattan at New York University at the time, and the events of that day made her want a quieter, calmer place to call home, at least for a while.

“It was all very jarring, and it made me re-evaluate what I was doing in life,” she said. “And, I wanted to write a book.”

Chase, 57, was born and raised in Epping, N.H., and chose to attend Stephens College, then a two-year college, because of its prestigious reputation, as well as pictures and descriptions of the school from a recruiter.

But Chase failed to earn all of the credits she needed her first year there and was not allowed to return.

“I had too much fun,” she acknowledged.

Several years later, Chase fell into software consulting and has lived on both coasts of the United States, moving back and forth for work and family obligations and making many lifelong friends along the way.

“She has friends all over the world,” said Ken Chase, Sheryl’s brother. “So many people from all walks of life. Good friends that have stayed with her for decades.”

Kathy Oium met Chase in 1974 when they worked together in San Francisco. The two have remained close friends ever since, making a point of getting together at least once or twice a year, Oium said.

“I don’t know quite where I’d be without her friendship,” Oium said.

Chase was married from 1981 to 1985. She does not have children.

“I never had that burning desire,” she said. “Once I got a taste for work and independence, I just really got locked onto it.”

Although Chase spent a lot of time working, she still managed to find time for a hobby.

“When I did have time off the bench, I couldn’t wait to go somewhere with a biking tour,” Chase said.

She began bicycling as a vacation sport in 1996 because a friend had gone on a biking tour and “raved about it.” Since then, she has visited Italy, France, Morocco and the Netherlands, among other far-flung places.

“It’s all about getting to see the country at ground level,” Chase said.

In 1998, she began working under contract at NYU as a software consultant after she found her niche in college software requirements. In 2002, when her contract was up for renewal, Chase packed up and moved to Columbia — to start again at Stephens and pursue a degree in English.

Chase’s friends and brother admire her decision.

“My husband and I both thought it was fabulous that she would embark on this adventure at this time in her life,” Oium said. “I admire her adventurous spirit. She’s a go-for-it girl. I must say that sometimes I wish there were a little more of her in me.”

Oium said Chase is a positive, fun person to be around and is always doing something interesting. “This is kind of a culmination of that spirit,” said Oium, who will come to Columbia to celebrate with her friend.

Ken Chase said making a big life change like his sister has done, going from a successful career to returning to school where she left off in 1966, is “a real challenge for most people.”

“She keeps crashing through barriers and building, building, building,” he said.

Chase found that Stephens had changed a lot in the decades since she left.

“It was very, very limiting in size, and had changed dramatically,” she said.

In 2003, she transferred to MU to complete her degree.

“I have loved my creative writing classes,” Chase said. “I’ve loved it all. I will be sad to see it all come to an end.”

In addition to Oium, Ken Chase and several of Sheryl Chase’s friends from around the country will come to town this weekend for her graduation.

“She does her thing and does it well,” Ken Chase said. “I’m excited for her.”

After she graduates, Chase plans to write a book, which will most likely be stories about Sumatra, Indonesia, where she worked for more than a year in the early 1990s. Chase’s love of writing and desire to write a book were the reasons she chose an English major upon returning to school.

“I have a lot of stories about Indonesia that are very poignant,” she said. “I think I could develop that.”

Oium said Chase’s “no-fear approach to life” will propel her through the process of getting her work published.

“I think she’s a fabulous writer,” Oium said. “She has collected a lifetime full of stories.”

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