Going back to college age 33 isn’t easy, but it helps if you can count on the support of a loving family. Earl Cherry, from Elk Creek, Virginia, will graduate this spring with a degree in history from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and minors in Latin and political science.

At last Saturday's spring football game, before a cheering crowd in Lane Stadium, Cherry, his wife LuAnn, their children Bruce, Lucy Kate, and Emeline, and his mother Rachel were recognized as the 2015 Virginia Tech Family of the Year.

Joining them on the field for the award presentation was Patty Perillo, Vice President for Student Affairs.

“I could never have made it this far without my wife, my kids, and my mother keeping me going,” Cherry said. “Mere words cannot express just how grateful to them I truly am.”

The Virginia Tech Family of the Year award is presented annually by the Division of Student Affairs to acknowledge the people who support the university's students. The award honors a parent, family member, or family of a current Virginia Tech student who has made a significant impact on the student’s college success. Presentation of the award coincides with the annual Spring Family Weekend.

To classify Cherry as a non-traditional student is an understatement. He has worked as a barbeque pit master and developed a six-hour course entitled “The Art of Barbecue.” He has been a grocery store department manager and a substitute teacher. He reads, translates, and speaks Latin. He is also active in his church, where he serves as choir director and helps with the youth group. 

When he decided to finish his education, Cherry first attended Wytheville Community College, then transferred to Virginia Tech in 2013. He found that the courses were more demanding, the assignments were more time-consuming, the commute was longer, and his involvement in student organizations required spending more time on campus. “I come home exhausted most days,” he said. “But one thing has never changed. My family was still there behind me, pushing me along.”

Cherry said each member of the family plays a role in his success. He credits his wife with working out a plan that allowed him to return to school. LuAnn, a nurse, works 12-hour shifts, often puts in overtime, and keeps the household running. “This woman is much more amazing than I ever imagined she was when we married 16 years ago,” Cherry said. “She makes sure I know I can achieve my goals, how proud she is, and how much she loves me, every single day.”

His mother, Rachel, kept the idea of school alive for 15 years, offering encouragement and financial support. Fourteen-year-old Bruce takes care of yard work, helps his grandmother with household tasks, and looks after his younger sisters. Nine-year-old Lucy Kate is the family expediter, keeping up with what everyone is doing, and making sure nothing is forgotten. Six-year-old Emeline provides comic relief. “She puts everyone in a good mood when times are hard, reminding us that it’s not all bad. She is my encourager,” Cherry said.

A Dean’s List student, Cherry is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, the Tau Sigma National Honor Society for transfer students, Eta Sigma Phi Honor Society for classical studies, Phi Alpha Theta Honor Society for history, the Classical Association of Virginia, the Southern Historical Society, and the World History Society. This summer he will complete a second bachelor’s degree in classical studies, then he will continue his education at Virginia Tech, working toward a master’s degree in history and an M.Ed. in education curriculum and instruction.  He looks forward to a career as a high school teacher and administrator.

“My entire family has brought me to where I am today, not just these I have mentioned,” said Cherry. “There is simply not enough space to mention them all.”

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Sandy Broughton.
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