Spring 2023 College of Education graduate David Byrd Yeaman did not take the conventional path to his B.A. in education sciences. Despite initially having an anticipated graduation date of Spring 1980, he is thrilled to finally become a University of Florida alumni— and learned a lot about himself while earning his degree.

Yeaman arrived at the UF College of Education in 1978 after earning his A.A. from Santa Fe College. He had always been a massive fan of UF and was thrilled to be accepted as a transfer student.

His transition from Santa Fe to UF proved difficult, and after a few rough semesters of earning mostly C’s, Yeaman grew frustrated and dropped out. After leaving UF, he pursued a profession in the insurance business, working with his father. However, according to his wife,  Jennifer, “He always felt like something was missing without his [UF] degree.”

Yeaman recalls feeling embarrassed and self-conscious about his decision to drop out of UF. Because of this, he did not mention his lack of degree to his friends or family until about three years ago. When one of his children asked Yeaman what year he graduated, he finally explained that he never did. “That moment stands out in my mind,” he stated. That was a tipping point for Yeaman—he needed to return to UF. 

Forty-three years later, he decided to return and finish his undergraduate education. Yeaman thanks many professors and advisors for helping with his return to UF but states that his decision to return to school was ultimately his. “The primary motivator in all of this was me, quite simply,” Yeaman said. “Once I decided it was time, I jumped into the process.” 

He was able to enroll in the UF College of Education’s online education science program to finish his undergraduate degree. “It was always in my mind that one day I would finish, but online education really opened the door for me to complete my degree,” Yeaman stated. He said that he was met with open arms when he was readmitted to the college. When starting the process, he was introduced to Aaron Ganas and Earl McKee, who played significant roles in his educational journey. He also mentions that he received encouragement from his younger classmates throughout his classes.

I turned a corner that day and set my sights on completing my UF degree with the highest possible standards of performance that I could attain.

Regardless of the support he felt on his new journey, the fear of failure lingered in the back of his mind. Worried that he also wouldn’t succeed this time, he decided to keep his readmission at UF a secret from his wife and family. Despite his attempted secrecy, two semesters into his classes, his wife saw an email from a fellow student working on a project with her husband on his computer. “Talk about a blown cover,” Yeaman stated. He recalls this as the hardest moment in his educational journey yet and said, “I turned a corner that day and set my sights on completing my UF degree with the highest possible standards of performance that I could attain.”

For the next two years, he worked tirelessly to complete his degree. He recalls the inspiration he felt from watching the talent and intellectual skills of his largely Gen Z classmates. Yeaman attributes his ability to keep up with his fellow students to his experience and confidence. His wife said his incredible work ethic quickly landed him straight A’s while also working full-time. Not only did he know he would graduate this time, but “I realized that I could have cut it all those years ago if I had just applied myself.” With graduation in sight, he felt it was time to tell the rest of his family about his forthcoming accomplishment. 

Yeaman drafted an email he planned to send to his kids once he received his degree, but his wife accidentally sent the email prematurely. Although unhappy that the news got out early, he took a step back and put the situation into perspective. “What matters is I did what I set out to do a long time ago, and I finished with the type of performance of which I am capable,” he stated. 

As a 65-year-old graduate, Yeaman reflects on his unconventional journey, recalling when he told his advisor that “there is no room for mediocrity this time around.” While completing his degree, he learned to embrace his differences and use them to enhance his unique educational experience. Additionally, he feels that his life “has been amazing in spite of this failure, and now, I have managed to come full circle.”

Now, it is time to use my knowledge to help the community in which I live and to help inspire my grandchildren to the benefits of higher education.

He looks forward to using his education to benefit others. “Now, it is time to use my knowledge to help the community in which I live and to help inspire my grandchildren to the benefits of higher education,” he stated. He plans to “put wings to [his] education” and volunteer at the elementary school three of his grandchildren will attend next year. 

With the support of his fellow classmates, professors, advisors, and now, his family, Yeaman has successfully completed his B.A. in education science with the highest honors. Although he’s always been the biggest fan his wife has ever met, she’s thrilled “that he’s a real, true, dyed-in-the-wool Gator, now.”

David and Jennifer Yeaman