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Grad achieves delayed dream of graduating from a university

Portrait of Mollie McCurdy in an outdoor setting wearing ASU graduation robe, cap and stole

Mollie McCurdy is graduating from ASU's School of Public Affairs in May. Photo by Sabira Madady/ASU

May 02, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Mollie McCurdy’s father’s death in 2011 changed the course of her life in many ways, including delaying her higher education.

Thirteen years later, she will earn a Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy, with an emphasis on law and policy, from Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs.

McCurdy was about to turn 21, and only months away from earning an associate degree, when she lost her father. Instead of transferring to a four-year academic institution to continue her studies like originally planned, she withdrew from school to work in the family’s coffee shop and help care for her two younger half-siblings.

“I decided to wait to pursue a bachelor’s degree and move back to California, where I’m from, and where my family lives,” said McCurdy, 33, who is from Downey, California, but lives in Phoenix after many years in different cities.

“I spent over a decade building a career, traveling, falling down and picking myself up along the way too many times to count,” she said. “And as I made mistakes, learned incredible life lessons — sometimes more than once — and tried to figure out what I was doing on this crazy, unpredictable planet, I was always thinking about going back to school to get my degree.”

Over the years, McCurdy’s grandmother, Edie, often reminded her it was never too late to go back to college, and her degree would always be waiting for her to pursue it whenever she was ready.

But more obstacles loomed.

McCurdy received her ASU admission letter in 2018, right around the time she accepted a demanding job. So she decided to wait another year to start classes. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Finally, she said she decided to no longer put her ultimate goals on the back burner.

“I had an epiphany that you can kick the can down the road, but time is not in your favor,” she said. “I had that moment of realizing that if I wanted to do something there was always going to be an opportunity that would prevent me from pursuing school.”

While McCurdy was in middle school, Edie revealed that her only regret in life was not going to college.

“My granny was a significant factor in my decision to finish my bachelor's degree,” McCurdy said. “She constantly told me I wasn't on anyone's timeline but my own, and I truly embraced that narrative in many other aspects of my life, so why not college? And why not at 30?”

This July, McCurdy will turn 34. She has a job with a nonprofit that focuses on electing progressive women candidates and will work on several local political campaigns this fall. She plans to take the Law School Admission Test in October in hopes of being admitted to law school in fall 2025.

Edie turns 101 in August. McCurdy said her degree is a birthday present for her grandmother, not merely to thank her for her inspiration, but to hopefully make up for that long-ago regret about not getting a college education.

Read on to learn more about McCurdy’s ASU journey.

Note: Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have been passionate about history and politics since high school. I had an instrumental AP American history and later AP government teacher, Mary June King, who opened my eyes to our political process and how our country's history shaped and continues to shape that process, for better or worse. I graduated high school during the financial collapse and the Obama presidential campaign, as Occupy Wall Street was creating a national conversation on income inequality and economic injustice. It had a profound effect on me, but then life happened, and I went to work and stayed civically engaged as best as I could.

I went to work in the cannabis industry and saw firsthand the importance of public policy and the ramifications when that public policy is not thoughtful and thorough, how it can punish, hurt and marginalize people. I also learned how those with the knowledge of the public policy space can use their knowledge and education to create more thoughtful and thorough policies for our communities and, ultimately, our country. When I discovered ASU's Watts College and the study of public service and public policy, the stars just aligned. 

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have two criminal justice professors who really stand out for me — instructor Jayn von Delden and faculty associate Anthony Vidale. They challenged my opinions, challenged me to dissect my opinions, and made my convictions much stronger. I highly recommend taking a class with both of them, but remember to go into these classes with an open mind. Certain opinions may make you uncomfortable, but push through it and it will help you develop stronger opinions for yourself and stronger arguments for why you believe what you believe. 

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: Between UCENT and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication are several tables and chairs for students to study. There's a solid energy in the steady stream of students and faculty that walk by, and the downtown buildings always inspire me and give me the energy needed for a good study session.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Challenge your perceptions, ask yourself and others hard questions and listen to the answers. Question the answers, and never be embarrassed to change your mind or opinion. You have one shot at this life; make it count.

The School of Public Affairs is part of the Watts College of Public Affairs and Community Solutions.

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