After arriving on campus in 2005, Octavia Burton’s first few years at Lincoln University couldn’t have been better. Funded by an academic scholarship and PECO and NAACP scholarships, she earned a president’s award in fall 2005 and was on the honor roll twice in 2006. The early childhood education major also was a member of the Chi Alpha Epsilon Act 101 Honor Society and, in 2007, was the Education Club president and a Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society senator. The Chester, Pennsylvania, resident also played basketball and bowled.
But then, during the fall of her senior year in 2008, tragedy struck: her twin children were stillborn. She returned just two weeks later to try to finish her classes. However, despite considerable encouragement and support from Elaine Bell, her Act 101 Achievement Program counselor, her mental anguish ultimately overwhelmed her. “I crashed during my finals and had to medically withdraw,” said Burton.
Burton, who had worked as an assisted living caregiver while attending Lincoln, then worked for more than five years as a direct care professional for people with developmental disabilities and, since 2018, has been a safe house case manager and family advocate for the Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County.
“After I lost my twins, I just couldn’t see myself teaching kids,” she said. “I needed healing for myself and assisting other people to heal was healing me.” Burton particularly works with children who have been abused, as well as with their mothers. “Most of the women who come in are feeling broken but leave with a different mindset 30 days later. It’s amazing to see the difference you can make in someone’s life.”
Burton actually first spent time on the Lincoln campus during middle school when she participated in a 6-week summer program that focused on transportation issues. “I loved everything about it,” she recalled—including learning about Black history and the history of Lincoln being the first HBCU.
So, there was no question where she would eventually complete her degree. Last spring, while working fulltime, she began taking classes again at both Lincoln, through the School of Adult and Continuing Education program, and Delaware County Community College. Why was she so driven to complete her degree in human services?
“My mother deserves to be able to say that her daughter graduated,” said Burton. “It’s bragging rights for her. She and my father got married when they were 18 and she wasn’t able to realize her dream of becoming a nurse. She worked hard for me and this is my way of giving back to her for all of her sacrifices.
“She needed to see me graduate and my kids needed to see it,” she said of her children: Tejon, a 9-year-old boy suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and chronic kidney disease and her daughter Malia, 3.
When Burton finished her classes, she called Bell, who retired in 2020. “Oh my God!” said Bell. “I’m so happy for you. Do you remember when I told you back in 2008 that you were going to finish?”
“Yes,” replied Burton, “and I said I would.”
— Bruce Beans & Terrance J. Young