If someone had told Ethan Renfro five years ago he’d be walking across a stage and receiving his degree from the University of Oklahoma – much less representing his college as Banner Carrier – he would have told them they were crazy.
Renfro went to college right after high school, taking classes at Oklahoma City Community College and Rose State College before attempting to get a graphic design degree at the University of Central Oklahoma. Like many students, he didn’t finish.
“Life is hard and full of responsibilities and demands, but the human spirit of drive and determination is capable of moving mountains to achieve what may seem impossible. I want to be able to tell my daughter when she’s older that her dad had the determination and tenacity to achieve his dream after so long and that she is capable of anything in this world with work ethic and a positive attitude.”
“My biggest obstacles that kept me from finishing school the first time around were motivation and finances,” Renfro said. “I was a less-than-stellar student and, like a lot of 18-year-olds, I didn’t take my studies seriously. That’s something I regret to this day.”
Renfro was paying for college himself and, despite getting some grant money, student debt discouraged him from completing his degree. When he got married and landed a great job with the Norman Fire Department, finishing school became a dream he didn’t think would ever happen.
“My life was great before coming to OU,” Renfro said. “I have a wonderful family and job, but I always regretted not finishing school the first time around. It always felt like a far-off goal that was never going to be a reality.
In fall 2017, at the urging of his wife, Renfro started the OU Extended Campus Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Now with a family and full-time job, he faced new challenges.
“I was terrified to start over and was afraid that my chance had passed and that I would be unable to handle the work required to finish my degree,” Renfro said. “My motivation to finish came from a combination of regretting my collegiate past and wanting to make my family proud.”
Renfro convinced himself he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to and decided he wouldn’t accept anything less than his best. Renfro graduated this past semester with a 4.0 and had the honor of being the Banner Carrier at the OU Extended Campus convocation.
“I’m beyond honored and privileged that I would be considered to be a banner carrier for my college at OU. My wife has been my biggest supporter throughout this process. She pushed me to apply and never let me give up, always providing encouragement and gentle nudges,” Renfro said. “I could not have accomplished this without her, my biggest supporter, number one fan and best friend.”
Renfro said finishing his degree not only fulfilled a dream, but it also taught him the importance of higher education and what it means for future generations. He said his time at OU benefitted him exponentially, both personally and professionally. He hopes to promote within the fire department, making the rank of captain. His long-term goals include working in conservation with the U.S. Forest Service.
Renfro credits his advisor, Jennifer Gatlin, for helping him take the leap and patiently working with him to achieve his dream, as well as professor Steve Gullberg, who challenged him and pushed him to succeed.
“I’m a better person for growing academically under their tutelage,” he said. “I haven’t the words to fully express my gratitude to the advisors, faculty, staff and fellow students that I’ve shared these past two years with here at OU.”
Renfro said he hopes his accomplishments will be an example to other future students and his daughter.
“Life is hard and full of responsibilities and demands, but the human spirit of drive and determination is capable of moving mountains to achieve what may seem impossible,” he said. “I want to be able to tell my daughter when she’s older that her dad had the determination and tenacity to achieve his dream after so long and that she is capable of anything in this world with work ethic and a positive attitude.”