Worth the Wait
After taking a 12-year break from college, Katy Caldwell ‘07 is graduating this week. Her story is full of ups, downs, and lots of Aggie spirit.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
Like most students at the beginning of a new semester, Katy Caldwell ‘07 was excited as she walked across campus to her first class of the term. She arrived early, and struck up a conversation with another student. When her classmate asked, “So, are you old enough to buy beer yet?” Caldwell couldn’t help but laugh.
Caldwell is a 32-year-old single working mom who returned to campus to finish her psychology degree after taking a 12 year break from school. She graduates on Friday, August 7, 2020.
After growing up in the Brazos Valley, Caldwell knew exactly where she wanted to go to college—Texas A&M University. She started her studies at Texas A&M right after high school. It was during her freshman year that she realized she wanted to be a tour manager for a band when she graduated.
The opportunity came knocking her junior year. It was too good to pass up, and in January of 2006, Caldwell hit the road with a rock band called Flyleaf.
“My family was very encouraging,” Caldwell shared. “I consulted with an advisor and decided to enroll in an online course (honey bee biology) for a semester while I went on tour. This allowed me to stay enrolled at Texas A&M in the event that I decided I did not want to postpone my degree. After that spring semester, I decided to unenroll and work towards a career as a tour manager. I made the promise to myself that I would go back and finish my degree one day.”
During her time with Flyleaf, the band traveled the world three times, touring 25 countries. They sold more than one million copies of their first record.
“My first job was merchandise manager, and I ended up going on to do lighting and eventually became the band’s tour manager,” Caldwell explained. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime, and I worked really hard at my career. I really feel like I learned a lot about who I really wanted to be as a person while traveling, and I gained an entirely new respect and appreciation for other cultures. ”
In 2007, Caldwell married the band’s sound engineer. In 2010, she and her husband had a son. They continued touring with Flyleaf, which felt more like family than a band. Caldwell and her husband even took their son on the road with them.
“My husband died in a car accident in 2012,” Caldwell shared. “My son and I continued to tour until 2015. Around the time my son started kindergarten, Flyleaf began to slow down as they were all starting families of their own. I began working full-time for a Texas country artist and fellow Aggie, Kimberly Dunn, and I built a house on the property where I grew up.”
Getting off the road and settling down in Aggieland’s backyard got Caldwell thinking of going back to school to finish her degree. With the support and encouragement of her family and friends, she re-enrolled in the fall semester of 2017.
“I don’t think I was really prepared for what it would feel like walking back into a classroom as a 32-year-old undergrad,” she said. “I was excited, nervous, confident, and insecure all at the same time.”
Caldwell said she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to finish her psychology degree. Grants and scholarships helped lessen the burden of returning to school financially. Her gratitude for those who made her degree possible is palpable.
“These funds were invaluable to me, especially when returning to school as a 32-year-old single working mother,” she shared. “I cannot begin to describe the feelings of gratitude I experienced when opening award letters for various grants and scholarships. While I do still have a large amount of student loan debt, this number would be much larger had I not been given these opportunities. There were semesters in which I would not have been able to shoulder the financial burden had it not been for the generosity of donors.”
Graduation is not the only thing Caldwell is celebrating this summer. In June, she got engaged. Her fiancé has been an amazing source of support as she crosses the finish line to graduate.
“My fiancé has been a tremendous driving force behind me finishing school,” Caldwell said. “Every time that I crawled in bed after an exhausting day and felt like I was ready to quit school, he pushed me to keep going. He’s been the best thing to happen to me and my son.”
By combining her hard work and determination with the support of generous donors, family members, and friends, Caldwell was able to fulfill a life-long dream. When she graduates on Friday, Caldwell will complete the promise she made to herself in 2006 and add great value to her on-going career.
“Psychology is one of the most versatile degrees out there,” she explained. “You can go into human resources, law, social work, counseling, etc. I work for an Aggie-owned and -operated company based out of San Antonio called ALPHA Facilities Solutions. My experience in the study of psychology has really helped me to understand and appreciate the people I work with. This, combined with traveling, has helped me become a more compassionate person.”
Caldwell plans to continue working full-time for ALPHA Facilities Solutions after graduation. She’ll use her life, job, and college experiences while booking travel for the company’s assessors. Her advice to her fellow graduates this summer draws from her life, job, and college experiences, too.
“Take time to explore the world and figure out who you want to be,” she said. “The world is HUGE and it’s meant to be traveled. If you don’t like where your life is headed, it’s ok to change your mind. You’re the only person you need to make happy!”