South Charlotte

She's exploring life through photography

Once you hit 50, something happens.

It's a solemn understanding that you've lived more years than you may have left.

When this realization hit Patty Rogers, she opted for action.

At the age of 52, she entered the Savannah College of Art and Design, joining a class of 18-year-old undergraduates to study photography.

Almost three years later, she emerged with a bachelor's degree in fine art, magna cum laude. Rogers, now 56, spent her life wrestling with a nagging voice inside of her pushing her to pursue study in an art-related subject.

As a young girl, her parents encouraged her to get a degree in nursing. She spent three years attempting to follow their wishes when she realized she couldn't do it. She finished up with a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Marriage to her husband, Jim Rogers, followed graduation and then two sons were born. They moved from Texas to Chapel Hill and then finally settled in Charlotte. Husband, family and home became her focus, and her degree in English was stored away as an old memory.

Before she knew it, 30 years had passed.

During those years, Rogers did feed her need for creativity by shooting pictures and exploring life through the lens of a camera. She loved horticulture and found joy in shooting botanical pictures. Pretty soon it became clear that a more advanced study of photography was what she wanted to do. The boys were grown, graduated from college and had left home. In Spring 2007, she visited the campuses of Winthrop University and UNC Charlotte to investigate their programs. They both seemed good, but something just did not click. If she was going to make the commitment to go back to school, she wanted to be part of the best program she could find.

"I was a notorious starter but not a finisher. I really became determined that I was going to make this happen," Rogers said.

Savannah College of Art and Design became her focus because of stellar national reputation and the large percentage of graduates who found employment in their field after graduation. She filled out the application, sent in a portfolio and wrote a personal essay.

The emotional stress of applying to college was magnified for Rogers. Did she have what it takes to do this, especially in such a highly competitive major?

Once the acceptance letter arrived, the scholarship offer made, and the 30-year-old courses from University of Texas El Paso transferred, things looked as if they were meant to be.

There was one major consideration to work out. Rogers's plan involved a residential commitment and she would have to move to Savannah, Ga., and live apart from husband Jim for more than two years. He agreed to support her.

In September 2007, she left their home in Providence Downs off of Rea Road to embark on the ride of a lifetime.

Ally Hughes from media relations at Savannah College of Art and Design said that out of an enrollment of almost 10,000 students, nontraditional students in the over 50 set are a rare breed. This year there were only 77 - and that included those enrolled in both graduate and undergraduate programs.

Rarer yet are nontraditional students pursing bachelor's degrees in photography. They numbered just three.

So what was it like being the wise sage surrounded by talented teenagers and 20-somethings?

"Surprisingly, I felt like I fit right in. The years just rolled back for me. I felt as if I was in a group of like-minded people," said Rogers. "It really busted any idea I had about lazy, party-going college students. Everybody was working hard."

Rogers said her professors felt as if having a more mature student in their classes was a advantage. They told her many times that she brought an aspect to the classroom that was different and helped make the lessons more meaningful.

Rogers graduated in May 2010 and like so many new graduates packed up and moved home.

When people ask her how she did it, she likes to quote Wayne Gretzky: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

She took her shot and exceeded her own and others' expectations.

Now she is moving forward as a professional photographer, armed with the knowledge it takes to succeed. And the admiration of all who know her story.