Angela Berry is seen participating in a mock interview with Sophia Gulley of Morgan Junior High School. Berry capitalized on every opportunity to enhance her skills as a student at Ohio University Zanesville.
Photographer: Chris Shaw
May 1, 2014
By Angela Brock
Ohio University Zanesville will hold its Convocation ceremony Friday evening. Among the campus’ approximately 300 graduates will be Angela Berry – a woman who has always wanted to be a teacher and who is now achieving that dream, thanks to her perseverance and the support she received from her peers and educators who helped her through her rocky road to success.
Berry began pursuing her bachelor’s degree in childhood education at the Zanesville Campus 10 years ago after graduating from high school. After only two days of classes, she dropped out of the University feeling overwhelmed by the coursework and the need to achieve perfection.
“Getting an A was all I could think about. I wasn’t ready for the change in my life that college would bring,” Berry explained.
Seven years later, Berry, now married and with two daughters, returned to the Zanesville Campus more committed than ever to pursue her educational dreams. She still had moments of self-doubt but pressed on, telling herself all the while, “I can do this.”
Halfway through her sophomore year and well on her way to achieving her professional dreams, Berry’s world was shattered. She, her husband Aaron and their two oldest daughters faced the tragic loss of the couple’s 4-month-old daughter, Maddison, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Such tragedy could have easily and understandably deterred Berry from her educational pursuits, but she returned to classes just one day after Maddison’s funeral.
“I knew if I stayed in bed I would have never wanted to get back out due to the loss,” Berry said. “If I didn’t go back to finish now, I would never go back.”
While her return to campus was not easy, Berry found comfort and encouragement in the support she received from the Zanesville Campus family.
Beverly Bell, an assistant professor of education at the Zanesville Campus and Berry’s academic advisor, attended Maddison’s viewing, and the campus donated a tree to plant in her memory.
But it was the support she received from her instructors and the conversation she had with one of her associate professors that really put her back on the road to success.
Berry had taken several classes with Chuan Liu, an associate professor of mathematics at the Zanesville Campus. That semester she was enrolled in Liu’s pre-calculus course. Liu said he could sense that something was wrong with Berry, and when he asked her if she was OK, Berry responded by telling him what had happened.
Understanding the difficult time Berry was experiencing, Liu shared a touching story about his own daughter who is battling a serious heart condition. He spoke about feeling out of control, and, because he saw a spark and passion in her, he shared with her some words of wisdom.
“You have to keep going and have hope even through the difficulties of life,” Liu said. “We may have difficulties or experience tragedy, but if you can finish something in the face of those challenges, hope builds again.”
Berry took Liu’s message to heart and finished that very difficult and emotional semester with a 4.0 GPA – an accomplishment helped by her instructors who allowed her extra time to catch up on the little class time she missed.
“If I had not been able to do that, I don’t think I would have gotten through,” said Berry. “I only missed three days of class, but I got behind.”
Lisa Douglass, an assistant professor of middle childhood education, joined the faculty at the Zanesville Campus the semester after Berry lost her daughter and had Berry in one of her first classes. Douglass remembered student introductions on the first day of class and the emotions Berry shared.
“I was touched by the love that I saw,” said Douglass. “I could see why Angela would want to come back to Ohio University Zanesville after the loss. Her peers not only supported her, they likely helped her through class material she may have missed and they genuinely cared for her.”
In addition to supporting her through the tragedy, Berry was also able to begin the healing process through her work at the University. Berry used an assignment in Associate Professor of English Lisa Haven’s junior composition course as an outlet to explain the obstacles she and her family had faced. She wanted to share with her fellow students the emotions she was going through and, more importantly, the good that came out of her family’s tragedy.
Berry and her husband Aaron created the Princess Maddie Foundation in their daughter’s honor. Through fundraisers, the foundation provides financial support to families for funeral costs or other expenses associated with the loss of a child.
This summer Berry, through the Princess Maddie Foundation, was able to help a fellow Bobcat at the University’s Lancaster Campus. The student had suffered a miscarriage while undergoing a cancer-related procedure. Berry not only offered her financial help but was able to encourage her to return to school even stronger.
Berry has been offered a position at Tri-Valley Local Schools, pending approval by its Board of Education. And as she prepares to graduate this weekend, Berry said she looks forward to inspiring others, including her future students, by drawing on the inspiration she received at the Zanesville Campus.
“I want someone to look at me and say, ‘Because of you, I didn't give up,’” Berry said. “I want my students to know they can do anything they set their minds on.”
In fact, Berry is already inspiring at least one person. Her husband, Aaron, is first-year student at Ohio University Zanesville, following in his wife’s footsteps.