May 2, 2024

Graduate profile: Melissa Converse

Melissa Converse

With Commencement this week, Schoolcraft College is showcasing the stories of several students walking during the upcoming ceremony. The next student is Melissa Converse, who is graduating with an Associate in Arts Degree.

Melissa Converse’s journey to Schoolcraft College is not the way most students arrive here.

Now in her 40s, she grew up in northern Indiana and got married right out of high school. Her and her husband ended up having two children and moved across Indiana before his work finally led him to metro Detroit.

As the got older, Converse made the realization of who she really was: she was gay. She knew her life needed to change to better reflect who she was, a difficult navigation to maneuver.

“I knew that I was living somewhat of a lie. I wasn’t living to my potential,” she said. “I knew I was a gay woman.”

After a whirlwind few years, Converse will join hundreds of other graduates Saturday in receiving their degree. She will receive an Associate of Arts degree, as well as serve as a student marshal during the Commencement Ceremony.

Melissa Converse with her wife, Leanne, and her sons, Titus and Cael.
Melissa Converse with her wife, Leanne, and her sons, Titus and Cael.

After her and her husband separated, they’ve remained good friends and parents to their children, which was their main priority. But now, as Converse began a new chapter in her life’s journey, she realized she needed education she always wanted.

Her inspiration also came from her father, who had died around the same time as her husband and her separated. His story kept her going and she wanted to do what she could to honor his memory.

“He didn’t get to do everything he wanted to do. He was never fully the person that he wanted to be,” Converse said. “He never went on those challenges, he never went for those goals. And that broke my heart.”

After looking at some programs, she began working in the real estate business. That business led her to meet her wife, Leanne, and the couple took a trip out west with some friends. While playing Frisbee in Lake Tahoe, Converse went to catch the disc but landed awkwardly, damaging the ACL in her knee.

Stuck at home, Converse fought feelings of depression. Another friend of hers, realizing Converse’s situation, came to her home and told her about the Michigan Reconnect program, believing it would be a good fit.

Living in Livonia, Schoolcraft College became Converse’s next destination. She initially enrolled strictly in the Distance Learning program, fearful of her age being an issue fitting in on campus.

“I was nervous,” she said. “I already felt weird being so old. So online classes were my foot in the door.”

One of her classes was an English course, which reignited her passion for writing. Originally she planned to enhance her real estate business, but she rediscovered creative writing. She began exploring more options in writing, eventually doing a Service Learning project involving area schoolchildren and writing, as well working with her mentor, Dr. Brett Griffiths, on The MacGuffin, Schoolcraft College’s renowned literary magazine.

As she’s gotten more comfortable on campus, Converse has become a bit of a parental figure to her fellow students who are younger than her.

“It was a little unnerving at first,” Converse said. “But they see me across campus and they want to tell me about their day, they want to tell me about their schoolwork. And I love it!

“These students, they have been a part of me deciding my path.”

Her next stop? The University of Michigan, where Converse wants to earn her bachelor’s degree and eventually her master’s degree in English. She’d like to make her return to Schoolcraft College as an instructor, wanting to give back to an institution that’s given her so much.

Even though it won’t transfer, Converse said it was important to her to earn a 4.0 GPA. She said she wanted to utilize the Michigan Reconnect funding and make the best use of what that money is for.

“If I’m using the state’s money to go to school, I want to do right by them,” she said. “So, if I ever get the chance to shake Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s hand, I know that I can do it with a clear conscience that I did not waste the state’s money.”

Schoolcraft College’s 59th Annual Commencement Ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 4, in the TrinityElite Sports Center on the Livonia campus. Those who cannot attend in-person are invited to watch the livestream of the Ceremony on the event web page.

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