Lenora Bradley, who celebrates her 18-year journey to obtain her bachelor's degree at December Commencement 2021

When Lenora Bradley crosses the KFC Yum! Center stage on Dec. 17 for December Commencement 2021, the 37-year-old will celebrate a winding 18-year journey toward a degree that her late grandmother could have only dreamed about.

Lenora’s grandmother, Jessie, spent her time at UofL not as a student but as a custodian, cleaning classrooms, offices, bathrooms and hallways in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and the Brandeis School of Law until the early ‘90s.

“She was very smart, she just didn’t have the opportunity,” said Lenora, a soft-spoken, single adoptive mother and foster mother who, despite many challenges that threatened to throw her off course, never gave up on the higher education goal she set for herself after graduating from high school.

At commencement, she will celebrate her August completion of her bachelor’s degree in sociology. She immediately turned her attention to a new goal and has started her master’s in social work at the Kent School. She also works full-time at Stuart Middle School.

Her two teenage foster daughters and teenage adopted daughter will be at the KFC Yum! Center to cheer her on. Missing from the audience — but not her heart — will be her late sister, who always strongly encouraged Lenora to stay in school, and her late grandfather, a lifelong Cardinals fan whose 90th birthday would have fallen on the commencement date of Dec. 17.

After years struggling to pay for her classes amid family deaths, crises and health issues, Lenora was just a few classes away from finishing when she ran out of financial aid. She credits counselors with UofL’s Student Success Center with helping her obtain a persistence grant that carried her through.

“I would say to any student that feels that they are not deserving or are in a hard situation … and they feel like their academic journey is over? I would reach out to the Student Success Center and get some assistance that you need so you know your journey’s not over,” she said. “(I would say) that you can keep going and it’s just one hurdle, but it’s not the end. You can keep going.”

Lenora has fostered pre-teen and teenage girls since 2014. This year, she adopted her 17-year-old daughter, who recently applied to UofL.

“I didn’t think they were paying attention, but they were paying more attention than I thought,” she said. “They haven’t seen anybody go to college. … If they see me do it, they say ‘OK, maybe I can do it.’”

Check out Lenora’s story in her own words below: