Ryan Clevinger worked hard as an officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections. He had a good salary, state benefits, and was well on his way to building a comfortable life, but something was missing.
The Haysi native wanted a college degree. He enrolled at UVa-Wise in 2009, but left when he landed the DOC position. The power of education had a strong pull and he developed a plan- a scary plan- and took a terrifying step toward a diploma.
Katie Clevinger, his wife, enrolled at Wise a month after the couple married. The pull of education intensified and he decided to leave the DOC. He joined his wife at the College in 2013, but it was not an easy journey.
“I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I earned a degree,” he said. “I would not have felt whole without it. We decided that we were going to move our mobile home to Wise and go back to school.”
A collector of vehicles, which includes cars, trucks, motorcycles and the whole works, he made a tough decision to part with all of his “toys.”
“We pretty much sold everything and we made the big move,” he said. “We made the move in May 2013 and I started college in August 2013.
To make ends meet, the couple landed jobs at McDonald’s that summer to get their financial house in good shape before fall semester. The move from an official DOC uniform to a fry cook togs took some getting used to, he said.
“It was a hard pill to swallow to go from working at the prison to McDonald’s,” he said. “I saw people come in that I had gone to school with and I’d try to hide.”
He was not ashamed of his new job, but he would see their expressions when they saw him and he knew they thought he had made a horrible mistake. He admits thinking the same thing himself. He had strong doubts, but the pull for a degree was even stronger, and it made him more deeply determined.
“It ended up just pushing me to prove them wrong even more,” he said. “I knew deep down that I was going to make this work, but I was scared.”
His wife, a Clintwood native, admits she was also scared at times.
“I was nervous at the beginning,” she said. “I was worried about not having health insurance anymore and that we would not have the income that we were used to making.”
She received scholarships from the Charles F. Pangle, Columbus Phipps Foundation, Columbus and Margaret Skeen Phipps Memorial, Charlkes Edwin and Adelaide Winston Showalter and Lettie Pate Whitehead funds. He received federal financial aid.
There was one thing that he was not worried about at all, and that was that his wife would have no trouble with the academic rigors of college. He was not so sure of his own chances.
“I knew she wouldn’t have any trouble graduating, but I was worried about me,” he said with a smile. “I lollygagged around a lot my first time here, but then I got my act together.”
The couple settled in and worked hard. He decided to major in communication and she opted to pursue a teaching career. But life has a way of making things interesting. The Clevingers found out in May of 2015 that they were going to be parents. The news came right after they, in a money saving move, traded their SUV for a small economy car.
“It took me a whole semester to get my schedule figured out so I could have a baby and go to school at the same time,” she recalled. “Professor Jewell Askins and Professor Andy Cox helped me out.”
The Clevingers said all their professors worked with them when possible to ensure they were able to juggle the roles of students and soon-to-be parents. Little Addison Clevinger arrived a few months ago and her proud father purchased her a tiny cap and gown to wear when she attended the commencement ceremony.
On May 7, the Clevingers will receive their degrees. He landed a job with Crutchfield and she will finish student teaching in the fall.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “It was definitely worth it.”