Friendship and a CSU diploma reconnect alums
After long careers working at Westvaco, what many refer to as The Paper Mill, three Lowcountry women embraced something else they shared in common. All three were graduates, at different times and under individual circumstances, from Charleston Southern.
Meet Esther Wilkins, class of ’91; Victoria Montgomery, an ’04 AND ’09 MBA graduate, and Shellie Snider, class of ’86. Wilkins, a self-confessed “social butterfly,” is the baby of the group at 61. She and Snider, 68, both worked in Human Resources, while Montgomery, 65, kept track of the numbers in the Accounting Department.
Pictured left to right: Shellie Snider ’86, Victoria Montgomery ’04 and ’09 MBA, and Esther Wilkins ’91.
While all three now have their degrees, how they reached the finish line is an even better story. All three accomplished their goals as nontraditional students. While working full time and raising families, they attended night classes. It wasn’t easy, and it took time and commitment.
Montgomery started in 1986 and graduated in 2004. She was in her 30s when she started and was 52 when she earned her business degree. “I was determined to get that diploma, even if they had to wheel me across that stage,” now laughs Montgomery.
Her dream of attending college was derailed when her mother died when Montgomery was 16. As the oldest, she had to put her love of education on hold while she raised her three sisters, the youngest of whom was 6.
Snider’s story is a little different. She spent more than two years at S.C. State before dropping out in 1966. In 1978, with a job and a family, she used Westvaco’s tuition reimbursement to start chipping away at a degree she still longed to possess. She graduated in 1986 and though an older student cherished every moment. “I got a ring; I had my picture in the annual; I walked across that stage; I did it all,” says a still proud Snider.
When thinking about how serious she was as a student she readily admits, “If I do say so, I was pretty much the teacher’s pet.”
For Wilkins, the only one of the three not yet retired, her graduation in May of ’91 could not be celebrated by walking across the stage. On Commencement Day, Wilkins was a little preoccupied, giving birth to her only child. She’d purchased a cap and gown, but that day she was wearing the ever-stylish hospital gown.
In 2014, Wilkins received a CSU Homecoming magnet in the mail from the alumni office. It got her to thinking. She began to bug both Montgomery and Snider at work about going back to CSU. In 2015, they decided it was time they all reconnected to attend Homecoming. It was a full day. They met for breakfast at the Huddle House, then headed for campus where Snider remembers “crashing the alumni meeting.” After that, they went to the football game. Montgomery says, “We had the best time!”
Now, all three women find themselves telling CSU graduates they need to reconnect with their school. They talk about how pretty the campus is and how much energy they receive being around younger people. At various times, they attend scholarship luncheons and Board of Visitors meetings.
They don’t need to crash meetings anymore. Wilkins is now on the Alumni Board, and Snider and Montgomery are members of the Events Committee for the Alumni Association.
They all attended CSU at different times and under different circumstances. But they now share a common diploma and a reconnected spirit that makes them proud to say, that’s my college, that’s where I went to school.