Leona Edmund never had to look very far to find the endless well of inspiration that she needed to return to the classroom to complete her Temple degree in the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program.
"My driving force was my children. I really needed to exemplify what I was talking about with them — I give great speeches and they hear it all the time about the importance of their education," said Edmund, 49, who will share her experiences with her classmates and their families as one of the student speakers at the first Bachelor of General Studies Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, May 5. "When I looked back on my life and asked myself 'Did I finish, did I complete what I started,' I hadn't. How could I continue to encourage them if I couldn't set the example? I decided to listen to my own advice — follow your dreams and don't give up."
The Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, offered by University College, was developed specifically for adult learners, giving them the perfect opportunity to complete their degree. Edmund herself is no stranger to Temple.
"It's unbelievable that it was 31 years ago that I originally matriculated to Temple to pursue a degree in biology. The BGS program wasn't the first time I had explored returning to the classroom — it's a road I've been down before and it often ended in discouragement," said Edmund who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and currently lives with her family in Kissimmee, FL. "I already had 143 undergraduate credits and no degree! Every university said 'Well, even though you have that many credits, you still have to take the last 15 credits at our university.' How was I supposed to do that?"
Edmund said she discovered the Bachelor of General Studies program "after reaching out to a program called Graduate! Philadelphia, which helps working adults explore their options toward completing a degree in the Philadelphia region.
"The next day she put me in contact with Kim Cooney (then Manager of Student Success & Retention in Temple University Ambler's Office of Academic Advising and Student Success). From there in what seemed like the blink of an eye I was enrolled — I made my first contact in May of 2021 and by the end of June I was registering for the fall semester. When Temple's BGS program thoroughly combed through my transcripts, they put together a program where all I needed was one writing intensive course and the BGS capstone course; that was it. From that point on I was all in."
Temple and University College, Edmund said, helped find the resources that would help fund her return to school.
"Instead of listening to the voice in my head telling me I couldn't do it, that it's impossible, I stepped way outside of my comfort zone, and I said, 'Let's just do it.' At the time, I had two children who were graduating high school," she said. "By the second week in September, I was fully funded for both semesters. This program really opened up an opportunity and I just dove in headfirst after that and I haven't looked back. I want to pay it forward, to share my experiences with student who have situations similar to mine that don't believe that they can do it. It can be done."
Finishing what she started, Edmund said, was not without its sometimes-extreme challenges when balancing work, life and school.
"While I was at Temple originally, I had gotten a job at night working in mental and social services that suited my schedule. I had my daughter at about that time — going to school and having a child, I had to choose between work and school," she said. "I chose my career and my child, and I put my education on hold. I worked in social services several years and then I met my husband, Cuthbert Edmund. I've been involved in administrative management for the last eight years in our family business, Edmund Communications."
Fast forward to this past year. In September not long after beginning the program, Edmund's house flooded.
"The challenge of dealing with that situation while also taking classes for the first time in a long time was very stressful. When I look back now, I was a boss!" she laughed. "At the time I didn't see that, but reflecting on it, as the challenges came, I welcomed them and worked through them. When problems arose, it gave me opportunities to learn how to adapt — to reschedule, to replan, to leave room for the unknown."
Very rarely is anything in life "calculated and put in a nice, neat box," Edmund said. In the middle of the spring semester, Edmund was given emergency custody of three children "so there are now seven of us in the house."
"Having to enroll them in school and do my work as well, that was a huge challenge. I refused to give up — I remembered all the support the University College staff has given me; I remember getting started with Graduate! Philadelphia; all of these callings that I've been getting. I'm supposed to answer these," she said. "Look at where it has gotten me already? The one day when I wasn't sure if I could do everything — if I could meet all of these challenges — was the day I was asked to be one of the student speakers at the BGS graduation ceremony. If that wasn't another calling, I don't know what is. You can do this; you can do it all!"
Edmund said she is exceedingly proud of her accomplishments. Finally crossing the finish line, she is tremendously grateful for the support that she has had along the way.
"I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and went to Lincoln High School with wonderful support from both sides of my family — my mother Karen Wilson and stepfather Gerald Wilson and my father Raymond Feggans and stepmother Veronica Feggans. My father went to Temple University and when my mother had me, he went into the military — he left school for me," she said. "I feel indebted to him to him — I owe him a Temple degree! I wanted to be able to put a Temple degree on his wall because he sacrificed for me. He said that was what he was supposed to do and that it was his pleasure — he was always a calm and humble man and I admire him greatly."
The support from Temple and the University College team, Edmund said, "has been incredible" throughout this whirlwind journey.
"To be able to accomplish this, I'm just so proud of myself. I've been discovering things about myself that I never thought I would before and I attribute it to this program," she said. "The University College staff has helped me every step of the way. Dr. Cynthia Belliveau, Ramon Rios, Kim Cooney and Sean Daly — you are not alone when you take this program. This is one of the best programs of my entire academic career — I've never been challenged on this level before."
With graduation just hours away, Edmund looks at completing her degree less as a finish to something "and more of a beginning."
"Graduating has shown me that there are no limits, only the ones that I set on myself. Graduating, for me, is a representation of what I can do despite the challenges — I want to be an example for everyone who thinks that can't do this. You can. I did!" she said. "To be a part of this inaugural class, I don't know if every other student understands the weight of this, but we are the face of the BGS program now and this is a program that can change lives. I know that each induvial story may not be like my own, but I know that there is some force that brought us all together and deemed this program necessary. Without my classmates, I could not have done it and I want to thank them for being a part of this with me."
While Edmund might be closing this chapter in her Temple career, the story isn't over, she said.
"I've been accepted as a non-matriculated student into Temple's College of Public Health studying Social and Behavioral Sciences starting in fall 2022 — I'm not done yet! I think for many people who are so close to finishing their degree, it sometimes might seem like everything is working against realizing this dream; you have so many responsibilities that you might think it's impossible." she said. "You might hear that voice in your head telling you that you shouldn't do it, that you can't do it. Don't listen to that voice. Step out of your comfort zone and answer when life calls."
For more information about the Bachelor of General Studies program and how to apply for admission or reenroll, contact the University College Academic and Student Services team at 215-204-6565 or BGSadmissions@temple.edu.