‘How bad do you want this?’: Students of nontraditional age persevere to get degrees

Bobby Frillou was determined to return to the books at 44 years old, not only for himself but also to inspire his three children. Camie Jobe | Photographer

By Kalena Reynolds | Staff Writer

While most college students are fresh out of high school and ready to discover themselves, others come in with more experience and a new set of hopes.

Bobby Frillou, a 44-year-old Waco sophomore, is a part-time student who also works as an electronic and technology support technician for Baylor’s film and digital media department. He dropped out of high school, got his GED at 24 years old and is now working on his third college degree.

Aside from education, Frillou is also a single parent of three children.

“I want to better myself, but it gives me the opportunity to be a role model to my kids,” Frillou said. “I have kids that are in high school and in middle school, so I want them to see me struggling, and I want them to see that life ain’t easy, but I want them to see that they can do it right.”

Frillou previously obtained an associate’s degree in applied science and auto mechanics and another in electric telecommunications, and he is currently working on a communications specialist degree at Baylor.

“I haven’t been in school for over 20 years, and I’m in a math class, and it’s beating [me] up,” Frillou said. “It’s just the simple fact that I haven’t been in school in so long. You know, a lot of these people are fresh out of high school. This ain’t nothing for them. Me, since I was a high school dropout, I have to work harder at everything I do.”

While Frillou is able to manage three kids and a full-time job with being a part-time student, he said it’s no easy feat.

“There’s nights I get four hours of sleep, but I just have to be disciplined. I have to be determined,” Frillou said. “If you’re hungry and you want something in life, you’ll get it, you’ll make it happen, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. And you also got to understand sometimes failure is part of it, and that’s what drives you to success.”

In order to instill self-motivation in his kids, Frillou also runs a DJing business with them on the weekends to educate them on being an entrepreneur.

“They see how the business is run, and they run cables, and they know how to hook up the equipment,” Frillou said. “They know what happens if the music’s too loud, and if it’s starting to sound ugly out there, what buttons to push to get it back right. So I’m trying to teach them the ropes.”

While college can be intimidating, Frillou said he combats those feelings by focusing on his desire to achieve more in life and provide for his family.

“It can be intimidating, but you also got to realize, man, how bad do you want this?” Frillou said. “You know, you got to put all things aside. And yeah, it’s intimidating. It’s hard. It’s not easy for a 40-year-old to come up in here and do this again, but here I am.”

Because Frillou works for Baylor, he is eligible for tuition remission through the school.

According to Baylor’s website, full-time faculty or staff can receive a 100% tuition remission for a maximum of two courses and no more than eight hours during any semester. Courses can be applied to an undergraduate or graduate degree or to employee development.

Frillou said his love for the university runs deep, and after he graduates, he wants to utilize his degree to further his career at Baylor.

“I want to retire at Baylor, and I got about 23 more work years left in me, and Baylor’s my home,” Frillou said. “I don’t see me going anywhere else. So the good thing is I’m using this opportunity since Baylor pays for my school and my tuition. I’m just taking this opportunity and making it happen.”

Frillou is an example of the ambition that runs through Baylor’s classrooms, and 48-year-old Tomball sophomore Marvin Lopez has just as inspiring of a backstory.

Lopez said he was inspired to get his degree after watching his son-in-law’s Baylor graduation ceremony.

“It was truly amazing, the whole graduating deal and how much pride you could see in everyone during graduation, so I think that just kind of stuck in my head,” Lopez said.

While Lopez was still working as a firefighter at the time, he kept the thought of going back to college in his mind. When Lopez eventually retired, he felt it was the perfect time to start his degree by first studying at a local community college and then applying to Baylor.

“I was still active as a Houston firefighter, and shortly after, I retired from the Houston Fire Department,” Lopez said. “And fast forward, that thought never went away.”

Before becoming a firefighter, Lopez immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 9 years old, and he joined the United States Marine Corps straight out of high school.

“I graduated from Cypress Creek High School, and I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school and spent almost eight years [on] active duty with intentions of re-enlisting and making a career out of it,” Lopez said. “But unfortunately, you know, God has plans that sometimes is not what you’re thinking, and it didn’t work out for me. And I was blessed enough to get hired by Houston right out of the Marine Corps in 2001.”

Due to the immigration process, Lopez’s parents were not able to come to the United States until later, ultimately leaving Lopez on his own for a period of time.

“I was parentless for a few years because of the process,” Lopez said. “But my father moved in the early ’80s, late ’70s. And then he requested my mother, and she moved here approximately two years later, I believe in ’83.”

While Lopez has been able to utilize his childhood experiences during his career, he said those same experiences have benefited him in college and motivated him to finish his degree as a pre-business student hoping to declare a major in management information systems.

“I got here, and it’s not been like going back and hitting the books in the comfort of my own home office and maybe taking a class here and there at the local college,” Lopez said. “But coming out here, and the level of the education environment and everything, it definitely became intimidating once I was introduced to being here and having to restructure everything.”