ANDERSON —- Wanda White has always been the adventurous type, never scared to try anything new and ready for a challenge.
But, in 2011, she found herself, at age 55 and not one college credit to her name, governed by fear and self-doubt that were preventing her from enrolling in college. She was working as an on-call chaplain at AnMed Health, and her mentor and teacher, The Rev. Dr. George West, director of AnMed’s pastoral services, had been encouraging her for more than a year to go to college. “I had been looking at Tri-County Technical College’s website but was terrified,” she said. “I’ve always been hard headed and driven. I don’t like it when I can’t do something.” On the very last day to register, with midnight as the deadline, she mustered the courage to click the submit button at 11:45 p.m. and registered for fall classes at the Anderson Campus.
“I didn’t sleep a wink that night,” says White, who is in her second year of pursuing an associate in Arts degree. “Through my Clinical Pastoral Education classes and Dr. West, I had the courage to go to college. I was afraid I’d be the oldest in my classes but soon found I fit right in,” she said.
“I’m the first one in my family to go to college,” said White, a former truck driver, who spent her early teens through her 30’s struggling with a series of failed marriages, domestic violence, family deaths and tragedies, and later a five-year dependence on drugs.
“From 1995 – 2000 I was addicted to crack cocaine. After surviving two abusive marriages and losing three of my family members, I tried to destroy myself. My ex-husband was addicted to drugs and out of control, and I knew I would die if I continued that lifestyle. I wanted myself back so I left,” she said.
“From that day forward, I never touched drugs again. I learned to overcome my self-condemnation and learned to forgive myself. I got clean at age 44,” said White, who is happily married, in close contact with her adult children, and has served as a foster parent for more than 70 children over the last decade.
Originally from Iva, she moved in with her daughter while recuperating from hip replacement surgery, and after recovery, began working a local truck-driving job. She talked with a pastor about a way to help addicts like herself. “He referred me to clinical pastoral education at AnMed. I needed a master of divinity to enter the program, but Dr. West made an exception and I was accepted in the summer residency program which teaches participants how to comfort families during spiritual and medical crises.”
Dr. West says although a master of divinity degree is required for entry to the residency program, he does make exceptions as he did with
White. “I saw her passion and responsibility and her way of connecting with people — those qualities that can transcend academic degrees.”
Dr. West remembers White’s desire to learn, as well as her passion and perseverance when given an assignment or opportunity. “We established a trusting relationship early on in the process, and she was more free to open up about the challenges she had experienced and to learn more about loving herself and accepting and forgiving herself,” he said. “She was able to look at her potential rather than her past.”
Nine months after completing the Chaplain Residency, she received her Minister’s Ordination from the USCC of the Upper SC Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
“I want to be a pastoral presence and to help people with an understanding heart and a respect for all religions. I’m a recovering drug addict. I’ve been abused and lived through it. I’m still standing. There are people who have gone through the same struggles and I can help them,” she said.
White works between six and twelve 16-hour shifts a month at the hospital. She also takes classes at the Anderson and Pendleton Campuses both in the classroom and online. “I love Tri-County. The people are so encouraging. This degree means so much to me because despite the past dysfunction of my life, I want my children and grandchildren to be proud of me. I took five years of ‘Mama’ from them. That drives me to make A’s and B’s. I’m humbled, but I’m still here, thankful and proud. I’m looking
forward to graduation day and am proud to say there are a lot of people rooting for me.”
She plans to transfer to a four-year university and earn a bachelor’s in divinity/psychology. “I want to work in grief counseling. I want to pay it forward.”