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For as long as she can remember, Juandalyn Bailey dreamed of graduating from college and becoming a nurse.

“I just love nursing and I love people,” Bailey told The Black Wall Street Times in a phone interview.”I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

As she prepared to graduate high school in 1973, Bailey was still working to chart the path that would lead her to her dream career.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” she recalled. “My dad had a career in the Air Force… and they came [to the school] and gave a really good pitch.” She remember being “sold” on enlisting, until she sat in on a presentation from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX.

Bailey was drawn to TWU and what was, at the time, the”best-in-the-nation” nursing school.

Filled with excitement, she stepped onto campus in the fall of ’73 and started her studies. In the three years that followed, she would meet and marry the love of her life, Bertrand Bailey.

Just a semester and a half away from graduation, the couple’s plans of remaining in Texas changed.

Bertrand was being called to Tulsa, Oklahoma to begin pastoring a church. Juandalyn Bailey decided to pause her studies and join him on his journey to the Sooner State.

“I always knew I was going to finish,” she said, “I just didn’t know when.”

Juandalyn Bailey builds a life of service in Tulsa

In the years that followed, the Baileys became both incredibly connected to the Tulsa community, and incredibly busy.

Bertrand was leading the church and traveling to speak at other houses of worship across the country. Juandalyn and their eleven children would often travel with him; visiting with loving on and blessing people they met.

By 2009, she became the state president of Pastor’s Wives and Widows. There, she tapped into her love of people, offering guidance and support to women across the state. She mentored young women whose husbands were just starting their pastoral career, and comforted those who had lost their life partners.

This work and service rooted in compassion became her passion and purpose.

And yet in the midst of all of this work and service, Juandalyn never lost sight of her goal.

She considered starting her studies up again shortly after they moved to Tulsa, but the pace of their lifestyle made that impossible. Juandalyn tucked away money and slowly paid down her student loans. She started planning opportunities to re-start school once her children were old enough.

“My motto became finish what you started,” she recalled. And she was determined to do that.

But as she was preparing to jump back in, life forced her to pause once more.

By 2013, Bertrand had fallen critically ill. “There was no way I could concentrate then,” she said. “I was his sole caregiver.”

She nursed her husband through his illness until his passing in 2018.

The road back to TWU

To help cope with the loss, Juandalyn Bailey frequently traveled back and forth between Tulsa and Dallas to visit family.

One day, while was driving home, she passed a sign for Denton, Texas. Instead of continuing up the highway, she exited and followed the roads back to Texas Woman’s University.

She parked the car, walked inside and got connected with a woman named Vicky.

Vicky walked her through the process of determining what credits she would need to finish her degree.

“I told her I wanted whatever option would allow me to graduate fastest,” Bailey said.

Vicky told Juandalyn she could complete a Bachelor’s in General Studies with a concentration in Nursing and another area in just over a semester.

She chose Sociology as the second concentration, fitting her love for people.

“The Lord made a way for me,” Bailey told the BWSTimes.

“Usually, you only have five years to re-start your schooling without losing credits. It had been 43 years.”

Moved by Bailey’s story, Vicky made a call to ask for an exception.

On the other end of the receiver came the words “whatever she needs to get through school, let her use it.”

“Finish what you started” Bailey scores TWU degree

Juandalyn Bailey re-enrolled at Texas Woman’s University in January of 2020.

At first, the challenges almost immediately mounted up once again. She was having to navigate an almost entirely new, fully automated system of education.

In attempting to settle her bursar bill, for instance, Bailey tried calling on several occasions to make a payment. Because she struggled to navigate the payment system, by the time she was able to connect with a staff member she was told she had been “dropped for non payment“.

Still, she persevered, completing the payments and re-enrolling once more.

Then, the pandemic struck, throwing schooling entirely online and upending her plans once again. In July, Bailey herself fell ill with COVID.

“My symptoms lasted for the rest of the year,” she recalled. “I was dealing with that while trying to adapt to online learning and still dealing with grief” from Bertrand’s loss.

“It was difficult.”

But still, she remained undeterred.

“My children had to come and teach me how to go to school online,” Bailey said.

“They were so patient with me,” she laughed, “even though I was asking them the same question over and over. They say with me and walked me through it.”

Bailey said learning the online systems that were second nature to her children was “like taking a whole other class.”

“That was scary to me,” she remembers, “but if I was gonna finish what I wanted to finish, I had to do it.”

By 2021, she had hit a groove. She was enjoying her classes, pushing forward in her school work and powering toward her degree.

And then, in May of 2022, forty-five years after first walking away from Texas Woman’s University, Jaundalyn Bailey donned her cap and gown and walked across the stage.

“Has anybody checked on Mrs. Job?”

“The fact that I continued in the journey and made it to the end goal,” Bailey said, “that’s what I’m most proud of.”

But Bailey’s commitment to achieve her own dream is rippling out across every person and community she connects with.

“So many people have told me I have inspired them,” Bailey remarked. “That’s not what I set out to do. I’m honored.”

Bailey is focusing her efforts on supporting and building up and supporting women across the state. She’s been a speaker for widows groups and is in the process of working to put together a widows conference in Tulsa.

Bailey is also writing a book, entitled “Has anyone checked on Mrs. Job?”

Hey book centers around understanding the Biblical character Job’s wife. In the story, Job loses his children, his possessions and his health. But no one, Bailey argues, holds space for Job’s wife.

“We have to see the backdrop of what was going on with her,” Bailey said. “Not only did he lose ten children and his status in the community, she did as well. She nursed those kids. She dressed those children.”

“Preachers are really hard on Mrs. Job, but you have to see where she was coming from and what she was going through.”

Bailey says she understands “Mrs. Job”, and she wants to make sure other women know they are seen and heard as well.

“I was in her spot in the sense that she had to care for a very sick husband,” Bailey said.

“There’s nothing like seeing the man you know diminished, losing his strength, hearing his boisterous voice turn into a whisper…”

Bailey wants women across the state and the country to know that no matter what they face, they aren’t facing it alone.

In the face of fear, Jaundalyn Bailey steps out on faith with college graduation

Throughout every struggle and every heartache, Bailey still finds hope.  Even when the path ahead seems scary, she boldly chose to “take a step”.

“My advice to anybody is that fear of things can hinder us from what we want to accomplish or finish,” Bailey said. “Sometimes it’s just fear that grabs us and keeps us back.”

“I just took the first step. And after I took the first step, then I took the next step and the next step. So just take the step,” she urges, “make the move- and then make the next move.”

Weeks later, Bailey is still letting the reality of what she was able to accomplish sink in. She’s still adjusting to the reality that after 45 years, she is now finally a college graduate.

“I actually secured my degree!” She said with excitement. “It’s really kinda soaking in to me.”

“On the Sunday night after graduation, I laid down and woke up Monday morning and thought “oh shoot,I didn’t register for classes!” Bailey said, laughing.

I had to tell myself, “Girl, you are done!” she joked.

“You are done.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...