Adult student has fiery perseverance

Andrew Linnabary

Marcus Petty has spent more than a decade working to earn a college degree.

Looking back on an apartment fire and changing schools, majors and jobs, Petty said his biggest obstacle has been himself. 

“A lot of it is self-inflicted,” Petty said. “The big part has been making sure I stay on track and making sure I did what I needed to do to get my degree.” 

At 37 years old, Petty will receive his bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in integrated marketing communication. 

“I went to KU right out of high school, then WSU right after that,” Petty said. 

He knocked out two years of college during that time, but said it was hard to focus.

“I remember when I was at KU, I spent 30 minutes reading a paragraph of my Russian history textbook,” Petty said. “I couldn’t understand or comprehend it.”

Petty said this led him to get tested for attention deficit disorder. His test results came back saying he was in the high percentile for distraction.

Petty had more issues than just his attention span while at KU, though.

“One of the biggest regrets I have is, when I was 21 or 22, I didn’t have a sense of money management,” Petty said. “On KU’s campus, they’d have little tents where you could get credit cards like it was nothing.” 

Petty said he would sign up for the cards thoughtlessly. Now as a full-grown adult, Petty said he has more personal debt than he’d like to have, in addition to student loans. 

“Right now, it’s a little bit overwhelming because my income potential is minimal,” Petty said. 

Petty’s internship as a communications specialist at the Mid-American All-Indian Center pays $10 an hour. Petty said what he does not make in dollars, he gains in experience at his job.

A decade passed before Petty came back to WSU last year. Not long after returning to school, a fire ruined his apartment.

“It was on a Friday,” Petty said. “I didn’t have to work that day. The only thing I had was Spanish class from 8:30 to 9:20.”

Petty said he got home from class and saw the fire trucks.

“I thought, ‘Huh, this is interesting,’” Petty said. 

As he got closer, Petty realized the trucks were near his apartment.

“At this point I was hoping my cat was OK,” Petty said. 

He then made his way up the stairs to his second floor apartment, walking through his kicked-in doorframe.

“I’ll never forget what it looked like,” Petty said. “It was like they had to rip my entire roof down to get to the fire. There’s just debris, insulation, drywall, it’s wet, it smells.”

Nearly everything was ruined besides his laptop and his cat. 

“Part of me wasn’t sure I made the right decision going back to school,” Petty said. “Then this happened, but I had amazing friends and people at Wichita State.”

Integrated marketing instructor Madeline McCullough left a card with Petty later that week while handing back assignments. 

“It was from the whole Elliott School faculty saying that they hoped everything was going OK, with some gift cards attached,” Petty said. “That was really awesome. It’s the gesture more than the gift cards. The compassion and the caring helped me.”

McCullough said Elliott School instructor Eric Wilson came up with the idea of taking donations from the faculty. She said she met Petty the semester he had the fire in her introduction to IMC class. 

“He was an engaged student, he did great work,” McCullough said. “He didn’t waste time in class spacing out or texting on his phone.”

McCullough said she finds a lot of returning students are more appreciative of the opportunity to learn.

“I think when you come straight from high school you don’t understand your whole life won’t give you opportunities,” McCullough said. “When you come back to college, you can really appreciate what a blessing it is to be somewhere where people are challenging you and presenting new ideas and new things to wrestle with.”

McCullough said she is drawn to lifelong learners, which she considers Petty to be. 

Looking beyond graduation, Petty said at this point he is sending out résumés, networking and looking for any opportunity.

He said reaching this point in his life wouldn’t have been possible without perseverance and good fortune.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for meeting the faculty here,” Petty said. “And regardless of everything, you don’t get anything without perseverance. Very few things in life are handed to you. You’ve got to work at it.”