I am a 53-year-old Grandmother and I wear an Arizona State University pin on my green Starbucks apron. The pin often invites conversation from customers and each time, the exchange leads to the subject of my late-in-life pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree. I am always pleased to share with customers that I am only able to attend college now because Starbucks is paying my tuition. Becoming an ASU student through the Starbucks Achievement Plan, or SCAP, has not only enabled me to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to say thank you to those who are making it possible—each time I go to work.
My husband and I have been married for thirty-one years, during which time we raised three children to adulthood. He works as a 7th grade Science teacher and I’ve had various hourly jobs, either as an assistant in an office or classroom or in the customer service industry. We live modestly, but we’ve always had enough. We paid for our daughter’s wedding, we helped pay for our son’s semester studying abroad at Oxford University and helped another son through an internship on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. To not recognize my blessings would be criminal, but as my children grew older, an inner aching developed: I desired to play a more substantial role in my community. We live in a small desert town that is in desperate need of teachers, and remembering how influential my own High School English teacher was during my formidable teenage years, I’ve often thought I could be effective in that role. But I couldn’t play that part in anyone’s life because I wasn’t qualified. By not respecting the importance of academia as a young adult, I was looking at living out the second half of my life being disqualified for jobs because of my lack of education. I didn’t like the math of the equation, but there wasn’t extra money for me to go to college. And who takes out student loans in their late 40s or early 50s, when they are so close to retirement?
Thanks to Starbucks, all of that is changing. It seems like yesterday that I was over two years away, one year away, six months away, 9 weeks away from graduation. Now, the nearness of the ceremony produces butterflies. Time, and again, I share my story with customers, and inevitably men and women, my age or older, lock eyes with me and nod encouragingly, offering sentiments of “Good for you!” or “It’s never too late!” And always, “Congratulations!” And time, and again, I respond, “It’s because of Starbucks, it’s because of you!”
Perhaps I would have found a different way to pay for college, but SCAP gave me something more than tuition. SCAP allowed me to live in a place where gratitude was at the forefront of my mind for an extended amount of time. For nearly three years, I’ve experienced what it feels like to say, “Thank you for choosing Starbucks!” and truly mean it. For it is the customers, from the first-timers to the every-day regulars, who are helping me change my life. I am always aware that the job I am doing at Starbucks is part of my education. Accurately steaming the milk for a Blonde Flat White and making the customer connection is just as important as studying for my Spanish final.
I have been inspired by the unselfishness of a company that is willing to pay partners’ tuitions, which will ultimately enable them to leave their jobs. At first, it appears to be illogical, but it is this backward thinking that changes our future. Howard Schultz once said in an interview, “we can’t build a great company and we can’t build a great enduring country if we’re constantly leaving people behind.”
I once felt left behind, but now my dreams are beginning to materialize. I have been hired in three local school districts to work as a Substitute Teacher while I pursue my Teaching Credential and Master’s Degree in Education. I cannot wait for the days when I will hopefully inspire the love of learning onto a group of students. It truly is never too late to become who you were supposed to be.
ASU Graduate, Class of 2019