Name: Angel Godfrey-Wess
Class: Heartland Class of 2012
Degree: Associate's of Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
Download Audio for Interview with Angel Godfrey-Wess* (MP3 format, 13.4MB)
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Colleen: This latest alum in the spotlight says her daughter's graduation from Heartland inspired her to transform herself from a woman defined by a rocky past to a survivor who strives for excellence in everything she does.
Angel: I'm Angel Godfrey-Wess. I will be graduating this summer with an Associate's of Arts here at Heartland Community College?
Colleen: What led you to Heartland Community College?
Angel: I was actually in the seminary in Chicago, McCormick Seminary, and one of my professors said my writing was atrocious. I said, "There’s nothing wrong with my writing." He said, "Yes there is." When I got here at Heartland, I learned I had to take developmental classes. That was ok because from English 94 to English 260, I mastered English and so I'm a straight A student in English at Heartland.
Colleen: Tell me what kind of student you've been since you arrived here at Heartland.
Angel: I've been very outgoing, very involved as a non-traditional student. Most non-traditional students like myself who is a mother of five, grandmother of 12, we tend to be at home after we come to school. For me, I've become involved here at Heartland. I've been the manger-producer for the Heartland Activities Committee. I've also been the student representative on the Academic Integrity Committee. I've also been the founder of the Heartland Inspirational Choir. I've also been part of the Student Government Association so I'm what they call a member of SGA – very involved here at Heartland and I recommend anyone to be involved at Heartland.
Colleen: Let's back up a little bit and talk about why education is important to you and when you realized education was important to you because it sounds like you took a different path before finally winding up here.
Angel: I did. I was a mother too soon. I had my first child at 16. I do not advocate teenage pregnancy before I go any further. The reason I say this … my oldest son is a Chicago fireman and EMT. My daughter is in a nursing program. I have a son who is an aerospace engineer and I have another son who is a medical supplier/buyer and then I have a son who is here at Heartland. He is going for his Associate’s (and will pursue) Engineering. So, for me, I don't advocate teenage pregnancy but if your kids come out and they're very successful then that's ok. It was ok for me to become a mother and a wife first and then make sure my kids get their education and then I stepped back and say "It's ok now it's time for me." That's why education is important not only for me, but for my grandparents – they felt like education is important because my aunt went to school and became an educator. But, for my siblings, none of us went to college right away. Once we decided we were going to do something … for me, I wanted to make sure I set the example for my grandchildren. My children already know. I wanted to set the example for my grandchildren how important education is and that you have to go the limit and what I mean by that is my ultimate goal is to get a Ph.D.
Colleen: Talk about your upbringing and how education figured into that.
Angel: My upbringing was very unique. My mother was murdered when I was three years-old and I was an extremely quiet and shy girl – no one believes me (laughs) – but I was a extremely quiet and shy. I didn't know who to trust even in school and I didn't make the best grades. I was not a cheerleader. I was not the popular girl in school. But, being raised without a mother was like, you know, when Mother's Day rolled around other kids would have the opportunity to celebrate their mothers. I didn't. Not only that, and I can get very deep and I will share something with you that I was molested at an early age. Grandparents tried to protect us but it didn't happen so I was molested by a family member. I was also molested by the neighbor's girls … daughters and I had a turn of events in my life in which I was not per se a drug addict – maybe I'm justifying it – but I did try drugs and so for about a year I was off path. I was very promiscuous … lot of men … lot of husbands (laughs). I was kind of sheltered until I decided I was pushed around long enough and so I decided I would take me back and it was hard to learn how to take me back. I learned how to start trusting certain people and talking to people. I didn't know what to do and I was determined to do something different.
Colleen: So that takes you where in your life when you made that decision to do something different?
Angel: It took me to by the time I was 40. I wanted to start helping people. I started by own business. I helped women and children who were domestically abused, sexually abused, and homeless. So, I started an agency in Chicago called "Mother to Mother." For "Mother to Mother," it was important to show these women they were well loved by me because I remember the story when I did land in jail for you know, being around the wrong person at the wrong time. The reason was because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be with the "in" crowd because I was not a popular person so I wanted to know how it felt to be popular where everybody knew who I was. But, I went about it the wrong way. And so I met a young lady in a county jail and she said she hated her mother and I asked her why? She said, "because my mother put me here." I said, "Your mother didn’t put you here. You put yourself here." But she said, "If there was an agency out there that can help me, I probably would have been a better person." She had left her kids … she abandoned her kids. And, deep down inside something said, "Help women and children." So, that's what I decided to do. I had an agency in the city of Chicago. I helped women and children. I worked with doctors, psychologists, and therapists and I had like five houses, 125 kids in a mentoring program. The company folded because I didn't have all my credentials. My credentials were not in order. I didn't have a master's in Social Work or a bachelor’s in Social Work. I decided I wanted to do counseling but I wanted to do it, I thought, on a spiritual basis. I later discovered that's not what I was called to do so I wanted to so it on a holistic level. That's when I decided, after I left the seminary and my professors told me my writing was horrible, I said well I have to do something different. And my daughter graduated here at Heartland and watching my daughter, she actually became my role model. I decided I was going to come to Heartland and I was going to roll my sleeves up and I was going to get involved.
Colleen: And you have really done that.
Angel: Yeah, I am overly grateful to Heartland because the Foundation has taken care of me. I know we had to fill out the applications and put in for it but it's way beyond that. It’s like the teachers care about my education. The staff, they care about what's going on with you. They reach out to you sometimes on a personal level and say hey, "You don’t have to go through that by yourself." I felt like that because I felt like I have failed myself because I failed math. Math has never been my greatest subject but now I've decided I am going to get an A this semester … this summer out of math. You all will see that A, no less than a B. I'm going to get that A or B out of math.
Colleen: How do you think what you’ve learned here at Heartland will help you as you kind of continue on your path?
Angel: Heartland has truly put a foundation within me to know that education is the key. Not only that, but interacting with individuals is a key factor and Heartland has a mission statement that talks about excellence. My ultimate goal is to be the best at what I do in everything I do and everything I touch is gonna be the best. I don't think I'm ever gonna leave Heartland. I'm gonna find somewhere here at Heartland that I'm going to be a part of. But, not only that. Heartland even reached out to me because my sister passed away. Her name is on the Child Learning Center wall up under the Foundation. I'm eternally grateful for the Foundation. And, the Department that I'm in, Dr. Munson and the Student Success Department and everyone also reaching out to me when I lost my sister, my dad, foster brother, cousin and my nephew all in seven months of each other. So Heartland has been really really good to me. Even in my bereaving moment they helped me out. There are no words … I mean there are no words to say how good Heartland has been to me.
Colleen : You went through a very difficult time as many students who come here do. We're starting a counseling center here. I would imagine you are excited about that.
Angel: Yes I am. As a matter of fact, the person who is in charge of the Counseling Center was also my advisor in the Project Rise program. I am eternally grateful because students need to know what resources are available at Heartland. Heartland has so much. You don't even have to leave Heartland. You can go to the Library. You can go to Counseling Services. You can go to Financial Aid. There are a lot of things Heartland offers. I have three binders full of resources that Heartland has – from the Tutoring Center to mentoring to the counselors to the Alumni Association … I mean I am eternally grateful to this entire school for everything it has put in me. Even at an older age, you’re never too old to get – I call it – "fresh seed" so that you can bring it out to somebody else.
Colleen: Angel Godfrey-Wess, thank you. Here are a couple of dates for you to save. Join us for Heartland Night at the CornBelters Friday, August 31st when we'll also give out our Alumni Service Award which recognizes community service and service in support of Heartland Community College. You can get tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, save the date of Saturday, September 15 for Heartland's annual Community Day open house featuring free mini-courses and a family fun fest on the quad. Thanks for listening, I'm Alumni Relations-Outreach Director Colleen Reynolds.