My motto is never quit learning, even when you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
– Levesta Deere, assistant teacher at Crossroads Youth and Family Services Learning Tree Head Start/Early Head Start Center, Shawnee, OK
Spring is a time when thousands of eager young graduates march across the stage to accept their college diplomas. It's also a time when folks of a more mature age may feel the pangs of regret, because life has gotten in the way of their pursuing a college degree. The pressures of work, marriage, children, and a thousand other things have a way of doing that. Such was the case for Levesta Deere, an assistant teacher at Crossroads Youth & Family Services' Learning Tree Head Start/Early Head Start Center in Shawnee, OK. All that changed, however, when Levesta graduated at the age of 66 with an associate's degree in Child Development from Seminole State College, and participated this year in its commencement ceremony on May 10, 2014, after hoping for 48 years to be able to do so.
The intervening years, since she began her mission to be a college graduate, were busy ones, and they also had their share of sorrow. She graduated from Porter Public Schools in 1966, married her late husband Jessie Deere, and had a daughter, Jessica. She lost her husband, and then lost her job, when the daycare center she worked for went out of business. She has had to battle a serious health problem. But fate intervened for Levesta and for Crossroads Youth & Family Services. Levesta was one of the first employees hired when Crossroads assumed sponsorship of the Head Start Program in Pottawatomie, Cleveland, and Seminole Counties in 2003 (Comanche County followed in 2006). She now has a granddaughter, Lauren, and a great grandson, Jessie, who attends Early Head Start at Learning Tree. She also credits her brother, Tommy Lewis, for his encouragement and help along the way.
A colleague and education coordinator for Crossroads, Terrie Vicknair, had this to say about Levesta when she nominated her for special recognition: "Levesta respects and provides individual care to each child as if he were the only one in her classroom. She had one little boy in her class who had to be placed in foster care outside the county and no longer would have Levesta as his teacher. When he commented that he would miss her, she drew an imaginary star on his forehead with her finger and said, 'Now every time I look at the night sky and see the stars, I will think of you.' She gave a child, seemingly alone in the world, a sense of belonging to someone. This is typical of Levesta, because the children in her care mean everything to her."
As Deere explained, "I was as slow as a turtle in finishing my degree, but I did it! I failed biology in 1966 and promised myself to pass it before I died. That was the last class I needed in order to get my degree. My motto is never quit learning, even when you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The best antidote for failure is to succeed."
"I want to thank Crossroads and Seminole State College for the warmth and encouragement they gave me to finish," Deere continued. "There is a season for everything, and my first dream was to see my daughter and granddaughter graduate. Now, it was my turn."
"This attitude exemplifies Levesta's personal drive and commitment to the agency. She is an outstanding employee and a gifted teacher. Her newest accomplishment illustrates one of the cornerstone values of our agency, which is the importance of lifelong learning," said Lisa Winters, executive director of Crossroads Youth & Family Services. "We are lucky to have her." Levesta credits Head Start with helping her achieve her lifelong dream-being a college graduate. The achievement of lifelong dreams and the practice of lifelong learning are part of the legacy of the Head Start Program, a legacy approaching a half a century of excellence.