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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to go back to college

Matthews describes her decision to go back to college sometime during the 1970s. She had been living in Cary, working for Wachovia, when she decided to return to college and get her degree in English. She describes briefly an encounter she had with an administrator at North Carolina State University, who told her her prior academic performance was not up to par with their standards. Nevertheless, she excelled at her studies at Meredith College and eventually became an educator.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
After you graduated from high school, what happened?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
I went to St. Aug[ustine] for one year. I left Cary High and said, No, I don't intend to see another White person in school as long as I live, and I really did say that. I thought, no, not going there, don't want to do that again. So I went to St. Aug for one year. And I have to admit, I made friends with the people and I partied my whole year. So needless to say, we did not do well that year.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
But you made up for a lot of missed fun.
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Missed fun. And so my father then said, no, we're not paying for this. You get you a job. So I went out and I worked for six years. When I was at Berry O'Kelly, I had an English teacher whose name was Mary Carter. And Mrs. Carter said to me once, why don't you think… And the Principal, Mr. Moore, at different times, they said to me, why don't you think about going to Meredith. They thought I was a good enough student. I looked at them and laughed. This was before I went to Cary High. And so I was in the tenth grade. And I just looked at them and laughed and said, I don't want to Meredith. Interesting enough, when I went to St. Aug and did not do well, came out and worked for four or five years, and when I decided, I was a keypunch operator at Wachovia Bank. They called them keypunch operators, they don't call them that now. I don't know what they call them, I think they're data entry people or something, but anyway. I said, I cannot do this for the rest of my life. And it was at that time I thought about going back to school. And I began to take courses, I think I had a course at N.C. State, I think I had a course at Meredith. And the Admissions Officer at N.C. State looked at my transcripts from St. Aug, and I think I had one A and that was in English, which is what my major is. And he looked at me and he said, now this A, and obviously these other grades don't count. And I said, yes Sir, I know. He looked at that A and he said, now you know that A in English is equal to a C here at N.C. State. I just looked at him and said, oh, okay, and I did not go back. I chose to go to Meredith. So it's very interesting that I eventually ended up at Meredith and that's where I graduated from in terms of my under-grad years. And so I went to Meredith, as I said, totally different group of people, or for lack of a better word, class of people and I really do genuinely mean it was very different from, at the time, Cary High. And so I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. I was very active and majored in English and enjoyed my years there. My sister behind me, Deborah, graduated from Meredith. So while I did not think I was an influence on my siblings, I ended up being an influence on my siblings, and in particular Deborah. And the others tell me also that I did, but particularly on Deborah. She went to Cary High and she also graduated from Meredith, so we're both Meredith graduates. I graduated from Meredith and I taught in high school, at High School for three years, and then decided to go back and get my Masters. I went to Teachers College at Columbia University to get my Masters and then decided that I wanted to teach on the collegiate level. And I came back and taught at N.C. State for three years. I left N.C. State and went to Hampton Institute, or Hampton Institute, it's now Hampton University, in Virginia, I taught there. And then I came back to Raleigh because my mother became ill and died. So I came back to Raleigh because my youngest sister was twelve or thirteen at the time and so I came back for my next oldest sister, Deborah, to be in the house with her. So we were in the house with and raising Adonna. I just kind of did odd jobs, because I did not know what I wanted to do. I had always kept up with data entry so I would do data entry jobs. My sisters looked in the paper once and said, Gwen, Wake Tech has a position for an English teacher. I had only been back maybe a year, so I had not been in the area that long and I came back at an odd time. I did not want to go back to teach high school. So I said, oh okay, I'll apply. I honestly did not think, because in the Black community, Wake Tech did not have a very good reputation toward Blacks. And so I thought, yeah right. But I thought oh well, I can apply and I will do that, and I was hired. And so now I've been here almost eighteen years.