By Shawn Ryan
Demetrus Coonrod enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012. She was two course-credits shy of graduating in 2015 when life got in the way.
Helping her daughter earn her college degree. Taking care of her grandchild. Serving on the Chattanooga City Council.
“It was a journey, trying to juggle being a parent, a grandma raising my 6-year-old granddaughter, serving on the council. It took a lot of sleepless nights,” Coonrod said.
Those potential end-of-the-road barriers were only potholes for Coonrod. On May 7, seven years after she stopped taking classes at UTC, she walked across the McKenzie Arena stage to celebrate a new bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in criminal justice.
Known for her distinctive eyeglass frames, Coonrod started college in 2009 and earned an associate degree in sociology from Chattanooga State Community College in 2012. She transferred to UTC for the fall 2012 semester, left in 2015 and returned this January.
Knowledge gained through earning her degree will help her work on the city council, said Coonrod, a first-generation college graduate.
“It helps me to understand people more and their behaviors and how we can impact them from the root cause or the issues that are happening within our city,” said Coonrod, the council representative for District 9–which includes East Chattanooga, Eastdale, Glenwood, Missionary Ridge and Ridgedale.
“Then you begin to understand exactly what their needs are and address it from that point, instead of me coming in and saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s needed’ with not really understanding what’s going on.”
It was not an easy path to her degree, Coonrod said, and she has advice for anyone who thinks their goals are out of reach.
“I would just tell them to stay focused, clear their mind every morning once they get up. Just clear their minds of those negative thoughts, always say affirming words to yourself and surround yourself with people who are going to support you and guide you and continue to champion for your very best.”
Slow and steady is OK, she said. “You’ll eventually complete the goal.”