From GED to Bachelor's degree: Kelli Jo Kirk's story

You are never too old to dream a new dream.
— C.S. Lewis

Martin County native and mother of three, Kelli Jo Kirk should have completed her high school education in 2006. She made the decision to drop out in her senior year, lacking one credit.

Kelli Jo Kirk

Kelli Jo Kirk

“I did not take high school seriously. I was told I would have to attend an entire year for one credit. I was young and didn’t realize how this would affect my life in the long run,” shared Kirk. Neither of Kirk’s parents graduated high school.

“I was washing dishes when I heard a song by Reba McEntire, ‘Is There Life out There,’ I love my children with everything in me but I always felt like I was put on this Earth to do more than be a mother. I wanted my own identity aside from wife and mother.” This revelation, prompted by the lyrics in a Reba McEntire song, led Kirk to enroll in GED classes through the Martin County Adult Education Center in September of 2014. Eight years had passed since she made the decision to leave high school and now Kirk was a homemaker and mother of young children.

Kelli Jo Kirk and family

Kelli Jo Kirk and family

It was during her GED testing, that her instructor, Donnie Osborne asked, “What are you doing here? You should have a degree,” prompting Kirk to consider higher education.

In January of 2015, Kirk enrolled at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) at the Prestonsburg campus. “I remember when I was sitting in the student center for the first time at BSCTC and thinking, ‘I am the oldest person in this room.’ Maybe on that day I actually was, but I later learned there were many non-traditional enrolled. It’s never too late to chase your dreams and achieve your goals. No matter what your circumstances are, you can change them.”

Nationwide, the percentage of non-traditional students enrolled in higher education is increasing. Many, like Kirk, are seeking to find better opportunities, increase or expand their current career trajectory or pursue specific passions.


Kirk’s youngest son is non verbal and on the autism spectrum. Parenting a child on the spectrum has led Kirk to an increased awareness of the lack of available support and resources for children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. “The lack of resources in the area for the autistic community is causing many people to leave the area. I hope to change that. People don’t always want to leave, but to get the support they need for their children, they often do.”

Kirk created a support group for caregivers and those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). She also contributes articles about autism to national publications including the Organization for Autism Research.

In May of 2017, Kirk graduated from BSCTC with an Associate’s in Human Services. Psychology had always been an interest to Kirk, particularly because of her work in the autistic community and her efforts to support people affected by developmental disabilities. This interest led Kirk to pursue a degree from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) with a focus in psychology.

The choice to attend EKU was a simple one for Kirk, “I love my hometown and community. I hope to always stay here in Eastern Ky.” EKU stood out for Kirk because of the online program and the campus location. She started classes in the fall semester of 2017 and is scheduled to graduate in May of 2019.

“Many obtain their degrees and leave the area. It is my hope that I can stay and help build the area up. If everyone who betters themselves leaves, we will never grow as a community. I have so many ideas for the future of Eastern Kentucky and I pray that I achieve them to make it a better place for future generations.”

Kelli Jo Kirk’s future, and those who she encounters on her journey, are certain to be made better thanks in large part to her approach. Her fiercely determined practice of recognizing obstacles, whether self inflicted or situational, and identifying solutions has led Kirk to persevere and overcome. Kirk is yet another example of Appalachian determination and ingenuity.

For more information on Kirk’s support group click HERE

To read some of Kirk’s articles and contributions click HERE

For information on BSCTC click HERE

For information on EKU click HERE