John Longshore admits that when he first started classes at UA in the fall of ‘83, he wasn’t as motivated academically as he needed to be.
“I became a communications major because Reese Phifer was the closest building to my fraternity house and I noticed a lot of cute girls coming in and out of there,” he said. Interested more in the social and football aspects of college life, he spent four years at UA but left without completing his degree.
John worked in his family’s insurance business for a few years until they sold it, and then he found a job in sports broadcasting that turned into quite a career. For nearly 30 years, he’s been a regular voice in Montgomery sports talk radio and a sports analyst for local CBS and ABC affiliates. Despite this successful career, his unfinished bachelor’s degree concerned him. “Deep down, I felt like I had been kind of a slacker. That’s not what I wanted for myself. It always bothered me that I had taken it so nonchalantly, and I wanted to finish.”
While building his career, John had also built a family. He was a young widow and single dad to two little girls for a long while until he eventually remarried. Soon after adding a newborn son to the mix in 2008, he read a life-changing article in The Birmingham News about Joe Namath finishing his UA degree through New College LifeTrack (NCLT). “I remember thinking, ‘If Broadway Joe can go back, I can go back.’”
John made a few phone calls and got connected to his NCLT advisor, Sandra Perkins. From his prior coursework, he had 55 credits, and he needed 58 more to graduate. “Sandra helped me map it all out, and she encouraged me through it all. She was very good at keeping me on the straight and narrow!” By Fall 2008, he was enrolled in classes and working to complete his degree.
“A lot of my classes were online, and I had one UA class here in Montgomery. It was on women during the civil rights movement, and Dr. Margaret Purcell would travel here to teach it since Montgomery was such a landmark location for civil rights. I’ve lived in Montgomery all my life, and I learned a lot and discovered a lot of milestones and locations right here that I never knew about before that class,” John said.
New College LifeTrack provides a flexible pathway for nontraditional students to earn a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. The degree requirements can be completed online or students have the option to take seminars in person and on weekends. Instead of a major, students choose a depth study based on their interests. John chose Leadership Studies and said the coursework was interesting and helpful. He performed better academically the second time around, too.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I didn’t do great that first go-round, and I felt like I had shortchanged my parents. But once I was paying the tuition bills, I took it a heck of a lot more seriously!”
When John began his NCLT coursework, his daughters were in elementary school. By the time he saw his graduation date drawing near, they were in college, and he even shared a math class with his younger daughter, Lucie. “It took longer than I anticipated it would, but I don’t think I’d change it,” he said. “Sandra would tell me, ‘It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon,’ and she is absolutely right. There were lots of highs and lows, and I learned so much. Even though it took 12 years to get it done, I don’t think I would change it if I could.”
In December 2020, when he had completed all the requirements for his bachelor’s degree, John decided to wait and walk the graduation stage with Lucie in Spring 2021. The first in his immediate family to graduate from college, John said finishing his degree has elevated his confidence in many ways. He serves on the board of Special Olympics Alabama and is a unified partner with several Special Olympians in the state. “When we are on campus in Tuscaloosa for events, I feel like I’m part of this institution, and I take greater pride in having them on campus. It’s also given me confidence at work. I’m behind a mic or in front of a TV camera all the time, but I wasn’t so confident when I came out of school the first time. I think finishing my degree has made me better in all aspects of my life.”
“In my field, experience is what is most important, but I wanted to finish what I’d started. I haven’t seen Joe Namath since this whole process started, but one day I hope to see him again and tell him he’s the reason I went back and graduated.”
Published: June 10th, 2021