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Going with Flo

In her corner office near a big, beautiful picture window, Floretta Watson’s motivational quotes, plants, Post-it notes, calendar and cute knickknacks all make her feel at home. It’s fitting, because she is at home — her office shares half of her dining room.

In that dining-room-turned-office-space, she also hung a framed piece that she had her eyes on for years: her MBA diploma from University of Phoenix.

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“I’m looking at it now,” she says, noting that it’s not typical dining room décor, but, hey, it’s her house and she works from home 99% of the time, so it’s all just fine with her. If autumn leaves are falling, then that big picture window puts up a good fight for the better view. Otherwise, she looks at all three of her diplomas from University of Phoenix — master’s, bachelor’s and associate — as if they’re the prettiest things she could set her eyes on.

But make no mistake, her sights were set on those diplomas a long time ago. “The year 2019 was the beginning of me doing what was best for me,” says the resident of a Detroit suburb. “It’s not that I didn’t care about others, but I had to start looking out for Flo.”

For her, that meant finishing something she’d started years earlier — her college degree. And to understand why that’s significant, it’s important to start where good stories do. At the beginning.

Portrait of Floretta Watson

“They all wondered if I were getting married. I told them, ‘I’m going back to school.’ They all thought it was wonderful, and I was glad, because right then and there I said: ‘I won’t be available like I used to be.’”

Floretta Watson, '23


“They all wondered if I were getting married. I told them, ‘I’m going back to school.’ They all thought it was wonderful, and I was glad, because right then and there I said: ‘I won’t be available like I used to be.’”

Hitting her stride

Floretta means flower. And now in her 50s, Watson feels like she’s hitting full bloom.

Others in her circle see it too. “She’s an encourager. She looks at the positive side of things. She loves people, and she loves God,” says co-worker Cheryl Pollard. “Oh, she will get you involved in something. She volunteers and she’ll pull you in and tug on you — but it’s always for a good cause and good reason.”

Before she even entered high school, Watson worked in admin support. “I worked in the summer youth program in the City of Detroit. We had a Business Office Education Club. I went to school in the mornings, worked in the afternoons, and one of the ladies took me under her wing, so I got attached to that.”

She had once aspired to be a teacher. Then a lawyer. Then a court reporter. And when she started at University of Phoenix the first time in the early 2000s, she thought healthcare was her future. In the end, she landed on an MBA because it gives her the most versatility.

Right out of high school, she did attend a university but came home to community college. Then marriage and children called quickly, and she put her education on pause. A short season later, she returned to school, this time with on-campus classes at University of Phoenix.

She was working as an administrative assistant by day, and taking classes at night, but her boys were growing up, and she didn’t want to miss it.

“My greatest joy was being there for my sons,” she says. “There wasn’t a Sunday family movie night, football game, fundraiser, concession stand shift or parent–teacher conference I missed.”

Years earlier, Watson and the boys’ father divorced, which made her even more determined to be involved in their lives, teaching them how to set good standards and have high goals. Then, when her youngest son graduated from high school, she realized that a high goal of her own had been in front of her for quite some time.

A college degree.

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Time to shift focus

She made a decision. It was time to focus on her. She gathered her friends together for her 53rd birthday, telling them she had a big announcement.

“They all wondered if I were getting married,” she says. “I told them, ‘I’m going back to school.’ They all thought it was wonderful, and I was glad, because right then and there I said: ‘I won’t be available like I used to be. When you call, I won’t be able to talk as much as I used to. I can’t go out as much.’”

That proved true.

For four years, Watson put her head down — kind of like the long “flowering stretch” stage that occurs when a plant grows in height before it blooms. She declined many social invitations. It only took one night out with friends, which parlayed into lost points on one late assignment, for her to realize she didn’t want to go through that again.

First, Watson earned her associate degree. She flew to Phoenix and took her seat at commencement with the other associate degree conferees. But inside something kept stirring. She watched those with advanced degrees celebrate the accomplishment she wanted. She earned her bachelor’s. And then finally, with just one five-week break between her undergraduate and graduate programs, she went on to earn her Master of Business Administration in April 2023.

Employer (and employee) assists

A grateful recipient of tuition assistance from her employer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Watson currently works there as an executive assistant and plans to grow into other roles. In fact, it was Pollard, her co-worker at BCBS, who kept coaxing her to go back to school.

“We would walk every day at lunch, and she kept saying, ‘Flo, you better get back in school.’ I wanted to say, ‘Would you leave me alone? This is not going to be a topic of discussion every time we walk.’

“And she would say, ‘Sis, if you don’t go to school, the time is going to get by you.’”

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Pollard tells her side. “Finally, one day she said, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ I’m so proud of her. She kept going and going and got her MBA.”

What would Watson say to anyone who thinks they’re too old or it’s too late to pursue their dreams? “I would say this is only the beginning. You raised your family. You sacrificed for others. Now, it’s your time. I chose to go back to school because that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. “You just have to make the decision and do it.”

Portrait of Laurie Davies


A journalist-turned-marketer, Laurie Davies has been writing since her high school advanced composition teacher told her she broke too many rules. She has worked with University of Phoenix since 2017, and currently splits her time between blogging and serving as lead writer on the University’s Academic Annual Report. Previously, she has written marketing content for MADD, Kaiser Permanente, Massage Envy, UPS, and other national brands. She lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and son, who is the best story she’s ever written.


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