Jon Mark Beilue: A College Graduate at Age 67
 

A College Graduate at Age 67

Wayne Osteen continues to replace that which was lost

By JON MARK BEILUE

Wayne Osteen no longer fears fear. But he knows what it can do, how it can cripple, sap confidence, ruin hopes.

“If there is anything that can come from this,” he said, “I would hope this would touch someone, that if they’re struggling in life, they don’t have to live that way anymore and fear can be overcome.

“Fear disguises itself in so many colors. You see yourself as a failure, not worthy, not good enough. I’m aWayne Osteen convicted felon. The guilt and shame, the fear, that’s strong. It was almost impossible to overcome without Jesus.”

Osteen, 67, is a freshly minted graduate of West Texas A&M University, having received his bachelor’s degree in general studies last month. A successful builder in Amarillo, he didn’t have to graduate from college. But he needed to—needed to for him.

“I’ve always been a very driven person,” he said, “where competition and results were everything. Second place was the first loser. That was the atmosphere I was used to.

“I got back on my knees and said, ‘Lord, I can’t take this. I look at myself as a quitter and a loser, and I need your help to replace the things in my life that I lost.’ A college education was one of them.”

Osteen doesn’t shrink from any obstacle or believe anything is beyond his grasp. Not any longer. Whatever the personality is above Type A, that’s what he is. But he’s been humbled too, tasted the lies and shame of rock bottom before he threw himself to God to help him dig out.

“I lost the ability to choose,” Osteen said. “I was stuck on stupid. I just couldn’t stop anymore. It got to the point where suicide was an acceptable option.”

It was 40 years ago, and Osteen was about nine hours from graduating with a degree in political science from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He chose political science, he joked, because that didn’t require much math.

But the bigger obstacle was drugs and alcohol. In 1979, he was hopelessly consumed by both and quit school just shy of graduation. It was part of a 30-year spiral that found him in jail, prison, hospitals and recovery centers. He was homeless, literally carrying a grocery bag with all he owned when he hit bottom.

A leap of faith to Amarillo

On Jan. 31, 1999, he said he was a dead man walking. He fell to his knees in Lexington, S.C., asking God to save his wretched life. It was then he at least felt some peace.

Soon, he was in a faith-based recovery center in South Carolina—“exactly what I needed, where I needed, when I needed,” he said. He was there for eight weeks.

“What I’ve learned about God is he lets you do what you want to do, and hopefully, you’ll learn what he wants you to learn,” Osteen said. “Sometimes you don’t go in the direction he wants you to because we have too much ‘self’ in us.”

After his time in the recovery center, he got a job, quit it, and then over the telephone, got a job with a blood plasma company in South Carolina. In time, the company was looking for a manager of a similar facility in Amarillo, Texas. Osteen told them to look no further than him.

On a leap of faith and fear under this thumb, he came to Amarillo in the early 2000s.  But he didn’t stay with the plasma center too long. Osteen was always looking to better himself. He got a job with KAMR television and later opened his own advertising agency.

It was while in advertising that he had a promotion of a home giveaway to benefit Make-A-Wish. It was a big success. Osteen spent much of his time at the home, greeting people as they took a look.

“They asked me if I were a realtor, and I said, ‘No, I’m in advertising,’” he said. “Then people thought I was a builder. After about 10 of them asked if I could build them a house, the answer became, ‘Yes.’”

In his when-you-see-a-chance-take-it life, for about the last 10 years, there’s Wayne Osteen Homes in Amarillo.

But that missing degree, that was an itch that still needed scratching. That was still a hole in his life, a reminder of failure and quitting. In late 2015, he contacted WTAMU about what it would take to finish his degree, that he was just shy of graduating when he quit.

He was told WTAMU would still require 39 hours. Undaunted, he plowed ahead. But he wasn’t going the online route. Osteen is a self-described people person, and that meant attending all 14 of his required classes over two and one-half years.

“I wanted to see what kids were like today, and what classes were like today,” he said.

He noticed immediately there were no chalkboards anymore. Students brought food to class along with their laptops. As for the students, who were young enough to be his grandchildren, it was almost a blessing.

Students, faculty accepted him

“I was nervous,” Osteen said. “It’s just human nature to want to be accepted and understood. Long story short, I was instantly—and I mean instantly—accepted. I’m a people person. I want to know you and you to know me.

“Before I knew it, I was accepted, and not just accepted, but linked to those kids. They saw something in me that I didn’t know I had. It was wonderful. It gave me a sense of freedom if that makes sense. Those kids, they don’t judge.”

He learned about teamwork and different ways to learn. To get his degree in general studies, Osteen had to take elective classes at the 300 level and above. He took courses like business management, business marketing and business social media.

 Initially he was told that some math would be required. He pleaded to take a harder look at his USC transcript, and to his relief, the math requirement was satisfied.

What Osteen found too, without fail, were professors that didn’t look at him as a curiosity, but as a resource, and were willing to do what they could to help him succeed.

“The first class I walked in, I’ll never forget it was in Dr. Jonathan Shaffer’s business management class, and he said, ‘I see we have a non-traditional student in class, and he probably has a lot of wisdom to share with us,’” Osteen said. “That attitude and outlook toward me was the most consistent thing I experienced from faculty and staff.”

Osteen worried that he would not be able to keep up with some curriculums, but he requested meetings with professors, and those proved to make a difference.

“I’d say I’m struggling with this or that, and this is why, and they’d tell me what I needed to do to improve my understanding and keep moving forward,” Osteen said. “To be honest, most of my reassurance came in my one-on-ones with my professors.

“The things they would say to me, about the contributions I was making and what I had to offer, I never thought I’d hear from a college professor.”

Osteen took six hours in the fall 2018 semester to finish up. One was a criminal ethics class and the other in gender communication. His GPA was around 3.8 in his 14 classes. His circumstances that led to his graduation prompted a handwritten letter from WTAMU’s president, Dr. Walter Wendler.

While most graduates leave WTAMU with the hope of a promising future, Osteen leaves with a sense of fulfillment and a reaffirmation of faith as he approaches his 70s.

“In the Bible, it says to show you are a new creature in Christ, and that’s true,” he said. “But I also discovered I needed to do things in my life that give me a sense of accomplishment, that put value in that statement.

“I am a new creature and forgiven and a child of God and I say those with total confidence. But to go and learn that all over again is one of the most wonderful things I have done. What WT did for me was teach me how to live life all over again.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

To see more Jon Mark Beilue columns, visit wtamu.edu/beilue.

 

—WTAMU—


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Alicia Aguilar
on 1.14.2019

I was so excited to read this story and the comments following. I also returned to finish my degree and also in general studies. Over 40 years ago I started my degree in education but life had other plans for me. Here I am now trying to meet the goal I had set for myself. I am taking my classes on line and God willing will earn my bachelor's degree at the end of this year at 71 years young at that time. This story has given me a lift in spirit to keep going.



Selina Marroquin
on 1.10.2019

Awesome, I too am a non traditional student just trying to complete what I started 30 years ago. Beautiful story, gives me the push to finish this fight. Thank you for sharing.



Mica Malacara
on 1.10.2019

This story touched my soul. What an inspirational man and story of his life!! As a 50 year old working on my graduate degree, I sometimes feel out of place with all the youngsters I've come in contact with in my studies. One of my professors that I traveled abroad with this past summer told me she appreciated that I was a mentor to the other students. For some, they might consider that very much a compliment; but for me—it made me feel silly. I told myself,"Of course I am--they are the age of my children... I'm like their mom." Anyhow, this was an amazing story and I appreciate how happy it made me feel and the smile it put on my face! I want to find Mr. Osteen and give him a "high five"!! Thank you Mr. Beilue for insightful writing! Mica Malacara



DeeLaine Ruiz
on 1.10.2019

What a wonderful faith filled story!!! I too share a similar story of going back to college and earning a degree while I was in my late 30's. I too had the same experience of acceptance from the younger students that brought encouragement and life back into my world. Thank you for sharing Osteen's story!! It's a good reminder of where we have came and where God wants us to be. blessings, DeeLaine