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Student returns to Binghamton after 38 years for graduation

Name: Barbara Newton-Holmes
Degree: BA in English
Plans: Live in southern California, where she will continue her career as a project manager and technical writer/editor.

Barbara Newton-Holmes vividly remembers her first year at Binghamton University. It was 1966 and BU, then known only as Harpur College, was a campus in the midst of change — both physically and politically — as the Age of Aquarius made its mark on students during the evolving times.

The campus, still in its early years since its move from Endicott, was developing into the Binghamton University of today. A new University Union was constructed, soon followed by the opening of the campus’ first co-educational residence, Hinman College. Protests and sit-ins were not uncommon as the Vietnam War fueled emotions.

For Newton-Holmes, the three years she spent as an undergraduate at Binghamton remain cherished, as it not only represented an era of change for the United States but also for herself. It was then, during this “time of exploration,” that she realized school was not the right choice for her.

Now, nearly four decades after packing up her Hinman room and beginning a career that would take her worldwide, Newton-Holmes returns to Binghamton this week to do something that has taken her 39 years to complete — she will be among the 3,291 graduates receiving their degrees during Commencement.
v “This has been something that I have wanted to do for years,” said Newton-Holmes, 56, a San Diego-based project manager and technical writer/editor. “Many people think that once you withdraw from college, you’ll never have a chance to receive your degree. In my case, it just took me 39 years to do it.”

But Newton-Holmes didn’t mind the wait. She used the time to build her career, and also to discover that, while it may not have been the best option for her in the 1960s, receiving an academic degree was yet another goal she wanted to achieve.

Raised in Rochester, Newton-Holmes began her education at Elmira College in 1965, where she studied English and science before transferring to Binghamton after only one year. She remembers Harpur’s small, young campus, then with only 1,500 students. It was just what she was looking for.

“It was the original SUNY liberal arts college at the time,” she said. “A large portion of the students were from New York City and were coming in at 16 or 17 years old, two or three years before the rest of the class and from leading preparatory high schools. For many students, it was an alternative to going to an Ivy League school outside of state that would be too expensive.”

But she also remembers watching how the ’60s affected the campus and its students. “There were so many things going on then, not only nationally but also at BU,” said Newton-Holmes, who worked as a staff writer and then news editor for The Colonial News, the predecessor to Pipe Dream. “It was wild. All the Beatles records were coming out.

“The real focus was politics,” she said. “There were sit-ins … it was the time of the Berkeley sit-ins so they were happening all across the nation. It was definitely exciting. There was real hope and the idea that the world could actually change. It was the time that people started to think about things in new ways.”

In 1969, Newton-Holmes, who was a humanities major, decided to leave school after family and personal problems began affecting her work and grades. “I got distracted and one semester I just freaked out and couldn’t get any of my papers or readings done,” she said. “I was even dismissed but asked back on contract probation.”

For her, leaving school and finding a job made sense.

She spent a year in Rochester, then relocated to New York City, where after a year and a few entry-level positions, she was hired by a radio and television commercial production house and enrolled in night school at New York University. However, within a few years she first encountered computers — leading to her current career field.

Working as a writer and project manager for several companies worldwide, she spent the next 30 years working in San Francisco, Tokyo, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Great Britain. “I have been a writer and communicator my entire life and I had to learn to deliver things on time and meet deadlines,” she said.

In England, she and her husband owned their own company, Adept Writing Services, a technical publications consultancy, whose clients included Barclays Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the London Stock Exchange and the Securities Institute.

Despite leaving college, Newton-Holmes made a successful career. However, after relocating to San Diego and beginning a job search in the late 1990s, she ran into her first negative experience due to her lack of an academic degree.

After posting her resume on, Newton-Holmes was contacted by a consulting/accounting firm interested in hiring her. The company was impressed by her background and work experience — but there was a flaw. “They said my resume was impressive but then asked me if I had a degree,” she said. “I said ‘no’ and they told me that they never hired anyone without a degree.”

That moment was her signal to return to school. Discouraged at first with the thought of starting all over again, she contacted Harpur College’s Office of Academic Advising in 1998, learning it would be possible for her to finish her remaining general education credits in California. She immediately enrolled at San Diego City College before completing her work at San Diego State University.

She has never regretted her decision to resume her education and has noticed that maturity has helped her studies. A member of Phi Theta Kappa, she currently has a 4.0 GPA for her upper division work and a 3.75 for the general education classes, including math — not bad for someone who once was dismissed from college because her grades were too low.

“You would have thought she’d have lost all connection to this place, but she returned to Binghamton to complete her degree,” said Julia Miller, director of Harpur Academic Advising, who worked with Newton-Holmes to transfer her credits. “It says that there’s something about Binghamton that builds a kind of loyalty. It’s also an indication about the level of respect she has for us.”

On Sunday, Newton-Holmes will close one long chapter of her life. “This is going to be the first time I came back since the 1970s,” she said. “I really encourage people that you can come back, too, and should not be scared.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08