Her finals are done, her grades are in and Barbara Jones was one of 2,166 students who graduated from UNC on Sunday. She received her Bachelor’s in History with a minor in English. None of this is out of the ordinary; except for the fact that it is.

Jones is no average student. She was an active duty marine, police officer, paramedic and cancer survivor all before graduating. She said she started college right after high school, but quit school and enlisted during her sophomore year after taking a naval engineering ROTC class.

“I think if you would have told me and my classmates in high school that I would even contemplate ROTC much less actually enlisting, they would have probably thought that was the craziest thing they ever heard,” she said.

Jones said she made the decision to post-pone finishing school based on her love for ROTC and because of some family issues. She said it was difficult in the marines, but she loved all four years.

“If you can prove that you can pull your weight, then you’ll be alright and they’ll treat you fairly,” she said. “My staff NCO’s and everything were just amazing; they could not have been more supportive. They were really great.”

After her time in the military, she became a police officer for awhile, then obtained an associate’s degree so that she could work as a paramedic. But she said finishing her bachelor’s was always in the back of her mind.

“I don’t like to leave things unfinished,” Jones said. “I don’t like to not complete something that I’ve started. I always knew I wanted to go back and finish up my degree. But getting to where I could actually realistically achieve that, it was always just out of reach. I could never just quite get everything to line up.”

She said it became more difficult for her to find the right time to go back after she found out she had melanoma. But, she said, it put things into perspective and she realized it was now or never.

“Ever since, my immune system has never been quite what it should be,” She said. “My arm has had some issues. So we decided, if I’m going to go back and get my degree, now is the time to do it.”

Jones said the most important part of graduating is that she’s finishing what she started where she started it. As a Tar Heel.

“I have dreamed about this since I was seventeen years old,” she said. “And I knew I wanted to come back to Carolina. It mattered so much to me to come back to UNC and to graduate from here.”

Jones is in the process of moving to Asheville, and said she is currently looking for a job there where she can use her history degree.