BAAS program the answer for veteran's life-long quest

Walking the stage at 78

BAAS program the answer for veteran's life-long quest

Billy Wade Parsons cried as he walked the stage at Kay Yeager Coliseum May 1 to receive his Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree from Midwestern State University. Not because of his accomplishment, but two weeks before graduation he had buried his 98-year-old mother. She had been his biggest cheerleader.

Parsons’ mother also inspired him to consider a second career at this stage in his life. He is 78 years old and is among the oldest to earn his degree from MSU Texas, if not the oldest.

“She took on raising her grandchildren when she was in her 70s,” he said.

Parsons did not walk the stage when he graduated from Big Lake High School in 1961. He skipped his senior year and received his diploma by mail. In 1980, he started nursing school at Angelo State University but left after he and his wife had a child born with a heart defect. The child later died.

After his 30-year marriage ended in divorce and Parsons reflected on his life, one of his regrets was not earning his degree. He enrolled in Texas State Technical College and in 2017, he did walk the stage to receive an associate degree in chemical dependency counseling. After making it that far, Parsons knew he could earn his bachelor’s degree, and fulfill a longtime dream.

When he decided to enroll in a four-year university for his bachelor’s, he had trouble finding a school that would accept his hours from TSTC. Other schools would not honor his veteran’s benefits. He found the answer to both issues through the BAAS program at MSU Texas. He completed five semesters through online classes, and made the Dean’s List in Spring 2019.

Delores Jackson, Director of the BAAS program, said Parsons was an encouraging student. “I enjoyed him sharing his experiences, his background, and his wisdom,” she said. “He is the epitome of life-long learning and a great example of how the diversity of perspectives aids in learning.”

Parsons spent three years in the U.S. Army, then eight years in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic. He knows first-hand the issues that veterans face. For his next career, those are the people he wants to help. “When I grow up,” he said with a laugh, “I plan on being a veterans’ peer counselor.” He now needs to complete internship hours.

Parsons lives in Clyde, Texas, east of Abilene, and works for a customer response center that takes calls for more than 400 power companies. When he earned his associate degree, 23 of 30 people he works with went to the graduation ceremony. Because of COVID restrictions, they could not come to his MSU Texas graduation but they did throw him a party. His ex-wife and her husband, two granddaughters, and one granddaughter’s fiancé did get to attend. Even though his mother wasn’t physically present, Parsons knows her spirit was with him. “She had a front-row seat,” he said.

Billy Wade Parsons sits among his party decorations celebrating his graduation at age 78
Billy Wade Parsons takes in the scene as his co-workers threw him a party to celebrate his graduation from MSU Texas at age 78. 

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Above, Billy Wade Parsons walks across the stage at Kay Yeager Coliseum during the Spring 2021 graduation ceremony for MSU Texas. (Sallisa Wyatt)