Inside of the smallest building on NCC's main campus, Funeral Service Education students learn to care for the deceased. Despite the subject matter, the classes are not depressing or macabre as many would imagine. For some students, the mystery of death is fascinating. For Roman McGahee, the art of restoring a face and the science of embalming a body gives him the opportunity to retell the story of a life.
"When you can make a person look like a person…what their family remembers them as…and you hear the family say ‘thank you', then it's all worth it," says McGahee.
One of the College's counselors has told McGahee that he should someday pen the story of his own life. "No…no," he recalls of his response, shaking his head with a slight smile reaching his eyes. Despite the fact that he has quite a life story to tell, he prefers to let his dedication to his studies and to his craft do the talking for him.
McGahee was working in Florida in 2004 when he decided to return to Pennsylvania to care for his dying brother. His mother passed away around the same time, and then a layoff from his job forced him to reconsider his academic background. As someone who once worked in the fields during the day so that his siblings could have a chance to go to school, McGahee knew that he'd be starting from the bottom and working his way up.
"When I went in to see where my level was for education, it was terrible. I had to start with just the basics," McGahee recalls of his rough start. "I began with 9 credits and I failed all but one and was put on academic probation. I was just shocked and bent out of shape. I had to file an appeal for why I wanted to continue."
Undaunted, McGahee turned to the Learning Center for help, often arriving at campus before the buildings opened and, after classes were through for the day, staying late into the night. The very next semester, he made the Dean's List.
"Sometimes things would be so tough that I would beat my head against the wall, and then the next morning, I'd be back," says McGahee. "This guy from CareerLink told me that sometimes things are going to be tough…sometimes things will get so tough that you don't even want to continue with school, but don't look back. I took that motto and I never look back."
Since 2011, McGahee has battled through the loss of his wife, homelessness, and the inability to afford his education. The possibilities that lie ahead for his future are what have kept him motivated. McGahee now spends time speaking to high school students about motivation and determination. He has plans to intern in May and eventually to own a funeral home in Luzerne County. The moment he knows he has "made it", however, will be when he crosses the stage at Northampton's commencement ceremony to receive his degree.
"I've told some of the deans that when I walk across the stage here, I might want to say a few words," McGahee says. "That will be the best moment of my life."
Name: Roman McGahee
Major: Funeral Service Education