A UA Little Rock business graduate is honoring a promise she made to her children to finish her college education.
Anita Burnett, a North Little Rock resident, will graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Analytics degree this Saturday, Dec. 17, more than 23 years after she initially began her college career.
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"My children learned that you can do anything when you make a plan," she said. "It's not always easy, but you make it work if something is important to you. If I wanted to show them that a college education was important, I had to lead by example and be the kind of role model that they can look up to and be proud of."
Burnett began college at UA Little Rock in 1999 just like many other new high school graduates. Things were going well for several semesters as she worked as a manager at Arby's and made the honor's list, but then life got in the way.
"I was doing well," Burnett recalled. "Then in 2001 I took on the additional responsibility of becoming the 21-year-old legal guardian of my 16-year-old sister. The next semester was a struggle, and I didn't do so well. I decided to take some time away from school. My intent was to make sure that my sister finished high school, and then I was going to go back to school. Life happened, and the more time that passed, the more my plan to return to school seemed to fade."
Burnett would later move to Michigan for five years to care for her mother before returning to Arkansas. She has a son, Nathan, 17, and a daughter, ChloeAnn, 10, and worked in a variety of careers as a restaurant manager, tech expert, and diesel cashier. When her son was in ninth grade, he attended an event that encourages students to prepare for the future by thinking about college and careers.
"I was telling my son how important it was for him to go to college," she said. "He called me out on telling him that it was vitally important, even though I hadn't finished. I had a bunch of excuses for not returning to school. I had two kids and worked full time. I just didn't have the time. Then my kids ganged up on me. They said that they refused to be the reason that I didn't go back to school."
Burnett started at UA-Pulaski Tech in 2019 and graduated with an associate degree in 2020. She rejoined UA Little Rock the same year.
"I started realizing how much I loved school again and missed it," she said. "My son said I'm happy when I am doing school work and told me to get my bachelor's degree. I talked to an advisor here and told them I needed a degree that would help me get a better job. I needed to make it worth it to take time away from my kids. The advisor told me about the in-demand field of business analytics. I had to watch YouTube videos to learn coding. It wasn't as easy as the first time I went to college. I had to teach myself to study again, and it was hard work."
Burnett's children stepped up to give her time to study and go to class. Nathan would watch his little sister, while ChloeAnn helped her mother study.
"My daughter likes to proofread my papers and when I have, for example, 11 chapters to read, she will read out loud to me to give my eyes a break," Burnett said. "She tells me all the time how she's going to do great in college since she already helps me."
Now that she is graduating, Burnett is looking for a career in business analytics and is making sure that her children get every opportunity to go to college.
"My parents and grandparents didn't go to college, and none of my siblings or nieces or nephews went to college," she said. "I am going to make a change. My son graduates from high school in the spring. He intends to follow in my footsteps and go to college. I may be a first-generation college grad, but I know I won't be the last."