A Monumental Midlife Makeover
After a 25-year drug addiction, a stint in jail and a battle with breast cancer, Linda Siegel will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work from The University of Akron on Aug. 16.
Siegel’s story is one of full disclosure — something both expected and accepted in world of social work, where she hopes to hearten others who share similar histories.
“I wanted so much to help people like me,” says Siegel, 52, explaining how she struggled finding work, finding stability and finding a second chance. But it’s a new day, far from the months she spent in prison for cocaine trafficking, far from the unemployment line and far from the hospital operating room where she had a bilateral mastectomy followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Siegel’s trek upward began in 2009 when she enrolled in UA’s Wayne College, 10 years after she earned her GED and two years after she was released from prison where she spent her 45th birthday on Mother’s Day.
Finding a new direction
“Finally having to sit still and look at my life and knowing I was killing myself was a turning point,” Siegel says, adding how the boot camp program that was part of her sentence taught her self-discipline and respect. “You forget those things and you get lost in addiction and the whole world and lifestyle that comes with it. I was the only person responsible for my future and what I did with it. I learned to take responsibility and stand up and do something with my life.”
Three years after life began anew for Siegel, in 2012, she felt a lump in her breast. She moved on.
“I went back to school two weeks after surgery with drain tubes in, started chemo in March and went through the whole gamut. My hair fell out. The whole feeling to me was that stopping now would be giving up. I needed to stay busy and focused on something other than being sick,” says Siegel, who completed her fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters both with a 4.0 GPA.
Before she was admitted to the Honors College three years ago, the Wooster resident was named a distinguished student. After three years at Wayne College and two at UA’s main campus, Siegel is slated to graduate with an accumulative GPA exceeding 3.8.
End of Siegel’s story? Just the beginning, really. As she completes her undergraduate coursework and her internship at Liberty Center Connections — better known as STEPS and Every Woman’s House in Wooster — Siegel is preparing for her licensure exam. Next spring, she’ll apply to UA’s graduate school to pursue her master’s degree.
“You can’t sit on the fence and expect things to happen,” she says.
Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda Siegel, right, is pictured here with Melissa McCollister, MSW, Ph.D. candidate and Siegel’s Honors College project sponsor.
Linda Siegel with her daughter, Ashley; husband, Jerry; and dog, Sammy. Photo by Jennifer Lemon