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Kristen Cyr
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Grad: 'If you hear a knock at the door and you think it’s an opportunity, take it.'

May 14, 2015

Lisa Marie Ewing Lisa Marie Ewing

Lisa Marie Ewing knows that if you wait for the perfect time to do something, your chance will never come. So when people ask the 48-year-old Providence mother of three what's on her bucket list, she retorts that she's done most of it already.

"I've seen the world; I lived in Germany and saw the wall come down. I've driven across country several times. I've written a book and been an online radio DJ. I've seen things, I've done things, I've never been afraid to live," she said. "If you hear a knock at the door and you think it's an opportunity, take it."

This attitude is all the more evinced by the fact that at 44, Ewing decided it was time to go back to school full time to become a nurse. She had been away from education since she was struck by a drunken driver when she attended Rhode Island College; shortly after she had to drop her class load down to part time, she met her first husband and moved away from home with him.

She knew the Nursing program at CCRI had a reputation for being particularly tough, and her personal life wasn't a cake-walk: two of her children, who were 10 years old at the time she was enrolling, are twins on the autism spectrum.

It was a lot to handle all at once, but Ewing heard that knock, and knew she needed to open the door. "I was always telling my oldest, Dixie Marie, who is a mother of two, that she had to get an education. My whole family has always stressed the importance of education, but at the same time, we've been blue-collar workers, and most of us stopped at high school. But I wanted to make sure that [the twins, Kali and Kindra] would be taken care of someday. So one day Dixie turned around and told me, 'Mom, you're always telling me to go to school – when are you going to get your degree?'" she remembered.

Since the twins had been at school and the family had been receiving educational assistance for the pair since they were 3, Ewing knew that, although it wouldn't be easy, she could carve out time for her classes and schoolwork. Her mother was a CNA, and she looked to her for inspiration and encouragement, even though Ewing had previously done "everything she could" to avoid living out her mother's long-held dream for her. "I have a knack for it, and I'm a nurturer by nature," she admitted. "I'm a people person. It was really time to stop fighting becoming a nurse."

Though she was a good deal older than most of her classmates – and with a significantly different set of responsibilities at home – Ewing found that she thrived in the program.

"CCRI changed my life," she said. The Access program helped her manage getting into the classes she needed to make things work with her complicated schedule. A lifelong techie and self-proclaimed "girl gamer," she found she easily fit in with the younger crowd. And she jumped in to the International Club, enjoying the diversity of the CCRI population and learning different cultural traditions.

"I think the students also learned from me," she said. "I think they learned that maybe they shouldn't discount their parents. If their parents are intimidated by something, encourage them to take a class. It'll open doors for them that you wouldn't believe."

Ewing graduated in December among the top of her class, a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and received her registered nurse licensure shortly after. She's preparing to earn her Bachelor of Science in nursing at RIC starting next fall, and is now on the job interview circuit.

While her ultimate goal was to become a forensics nurse – a sort of hybrid of a first responder and an evidence collector, such as would have been on scene at the Boston Marathon – there aren't yet too many jobs for RNs in that field. She has an interest in maternity and pediatrics, no doubt helped along by her own considerable life experience.

"I delivered my first grandchild," she said. "And having been a pregnant woman, I feel that I can calm them. I'm a very calming presence. There's that freak-out moment they all have where it's like – 'Oh no, I'm going to be a mom!' I'm able to step in and be that calming force."

Some might wonder how Ewing is able to radiate this type of calmness in the midst of accomplishing so much – not just at school, but at home. The twins are going to start high school in the fall, and have made great strides since they were first diagnosed. Ewing has done what she was most afraid to do in going back to school, and she's clearly grabbed that bull by the horns. So how did she make it through?

"My grandmother always said you have to be like a turtle," she said, though not in the way that we so often think – slow and steady. "You have to have an outer shell, and even though your underbelly is soft, you have to turn that outer shell to the world and let stuff bounce off of you. But you have a family you can turn that soft side to," she said, adding that her mother, sister and daughters were always there to provide support and comfort when she needed it. Even Kindra, who sometimes has trouble recognizing emotions and expressing herself, provided solace – and tissues – in the times when Ewing needed a shoulder to cry on.

"If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I would have done," she said.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16