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Mission accomplished for veteran
JCSU graduate earns degree after 22-year break
Published Thursday, May 16, 2013 8:11 am
by Herbert L. White


Michael Lipscomb spent 10 years marching for his country.

Johnson C. Smith University senior Michael Lipscomb is earning his degree on May 19, nearly 24 years after he enrolled at the school.

On Sunday, he’ll march for a college degree.

Lipscomb, a Johnson C. Smith University senior, earned his bachelor’s in criminology nearly 24 years after he first enrolled. He left to join the military and served in Iraq and Haiti before the tug of college and professional mobility pulled at him. At JCSU, Lipscomb, 43, has been a mentor to classmates half his age.

“The students here embrace me better than I thought they would,” he said. “I tell them the story about how I dropped out because I was partying and wasn’t focused on school or whatever. Sometimes I think I inspire them. I like to use a lot of analogies when I’m trying to get someone to grasp a concept.”

“Mike is awesome,” said Amyra Sims-Brown, 21, a junior from Charlotte. “He’s always willing to give you advice, being that he’s older than some of the students. He’s always willing to listen to what your problems are. He’s an all-around good man, he’s an all-around good student and I’m sad that he’s leaving. I wish he would stay one more year.”

Lipscomb, who applied grants from the post-9/11 GI Bill to his JCSU tuition, used his own experiences as inspiration. The military provided the discipline to handle academics, as well as building camaraderie in life-and-death scenarios. Those assets have served him well on campus in making the adjustment to college student.

“The difficulty is communicating effectively in civilian life,” Lipscomb said. “You have to re-train your brain for that.”

Lipscomb was an honor roll student as a freshman in 1989, but his academics slipped the next year when the freedom of adulthood got the better of the classroom. Rather than serve academic probation as a junior, he dropped out and joined the Army in 1991.

“If I flunk out, I don’t have anyplace to go because I grew up in a children’s home,” he said. “I flipped a coin, the coin didn’t work out, so I caught the bus down the street and joined the Army.”

Lipscomb spent 10 years between the Marine Corps, where he was a sergeant and army specialist. In 2004, he became a military contractor in Iraq and Germany, moving up the ranks until 2011 when supervisors told him a college degree would improve his chances of promotion.

Lipscomb, a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, didn’t give college much thought at that point in his life.  He spent most of his youth in children’s homes after his parents’ divorce and a period of child abuse, but advocates at Methodist Children’s Home suggested college and offered to pay his tuition. Lipscomb chose JCSU because it offered an opportunity to get away from home, but was surprised at being among the majority at a historically black college.

“All the children’s homes I grew up in had been mixed communities,” he said. “When I first came here, I hadn’t been around this many black people in my life.”

After Sunday’s commencement, Lipscomb will board a plane and head to Germany to resume his career in military contracting. That business-first attitude is what Sims-Brown says defines him.

“He’s definitely an efficient person,” she said. “He’s get (it) done and get it out of the way. I’d like to keep him around, but I’m glad he’s graduating.”



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