Class of Spring 2024: CASL graduate Eric Welch

April 20, 2024

Inspired by his daughter’s college graduation, Eric Welch returned to school after a nearly 30-year hiatus. The English major says support from UM-Dearborn’s professors and staff helped him start — and finish — this chapter in his life.

Graphic of Eric Welch, Spring 2024 CASL graduate
Graphic by Violet Dashi

After Eric Welch’s daughter, Abbie, graduated from college in 2018, she told her dad, “We did it!” Welch, a single father, beamed with pride. But, when reflecting on his own path, Welch says that day encouraged him to finish something he felt was left undone: his own college education.

“I went to college right after high school, but dropped out my sophomore year. I wasn’t focused and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Welch, a nontraditional student who re-entered college in his 40s. “I’m not saying that I have all the answers now. But I have experience, know myself a bit better and trust that I will end up where I am supposed to be as long as I’m honest with myself.”

People around campus may recognize Welch — and his work — when relaxing in the CASL contemplative garden. He’s a landscaper on campus, a full-time job he started in January 2023, and is especially proud of the green twig dogwood and forget-me-nots he and his team of student workers planted there. Dearborn Wolverine athletes may know Welch, who did a winter internship with the UM-Dearborn Athletics office, as the guy in the stands who reported on their games. Readers of the campus’ literature journal Lyceum know his writing. Not only did he contribute to the publication, he also served as managing editor for three years.

Class of spring 2024 CASL grad Eric Welsh, who also works for UM-Dearborn's Facilities Operations
CASL grad Eric Welch is pictured by the Chancellor's Pond.

“I didn’t know that I could express myself in these ways. After high school, I looked at majoring in sports medicine. When I first started back, I thought about coaching and teaching,” says Welch, who re-started his college journey at Schoolcraft College in 2018 and transferred to UM-Dearborn in 2020. “As this middle-aged guy, I wrote an essay in English class about my attempts to recreate the original Irish coffee and got praise for it. It was the first time I remember getting praise for my writing. I submitted that essay to Lyceum my first year here and it was published. That opened up a new world for me. I’m an introvert, but I learned how freeing it was to express myself. So I kept looking for ways to do that.”

Reflecting on his life between the end of high school and now, Welch says after those two years of college, he joined the Navy in 1994 — inspired by his uncles and cousin, who were in that U.S. military branch. He then worked with his brother as a volunteer firefighter in Novi. He later became a supervisor for an EMS company and worked there for more than a decade. Then, when Welch’s father called him to help manage the family store, Hershey’s Shoes in Garden City, Welch stepped away from his EMS career in 2012 to assist his dad.

“When the family calls for help, you go,” says Welch, who worked at Hershey’s Shoes until his father retired and the store closed in December 2022. “I could have taken over the store, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t the best version of me when I worked there. I appreciate the opportunities my dad gave me, but I was in school and pursuing my own path. I wanted to see where it would lead me.”

So where have the last few years at UM-Dearborn taken him? He’s graduating summa cum laude. He’s met new friends, found a love of garden work and writing, and shown himself what is possible — all while working full time and trying out new things. “I’ve learned that it’s OK to be a little bit uncomfortable,” he says. “You usually come out on the other side with a new skill or perspective. It just means that you are growing.”

Nearing the end of his college journey, Welch says he still can’t believe the transformation he’s gone through while on campus. He attributes it to the people he’s met at UM-Dearborn.

Welch says the SOAR Program, which is a go-to resource space for older adult learners, helped him transition back to college after nearly 30 years. Because of the SOAR program, he always had a computer to use, knew where to go for help and had a built-in community of other Dearborn Wolverines who were returning to school.

He says Communications Professor Tim Kiska’s journalism courses introduced him to new ways of telling stories and serving the community through news writing, which led Welch to start a side hustle in freelance journalism. 

And his full-time UM-Dearborn landscaping position helped him balance school, finances and expression. “My boss was great about helping me work my schedule around school,” says Welch, who is participating in the graduation ceremony in April, but officially graduates in August. “There’s nothing like the freedom of being outside, seeing the results of what you’ve done and having work be a little bit different every day.”

As graduation approaches, Welch says he’s going to enjoy his last few months of college. He’ll continue his landscaping role — but he’s also received job offers for newspaper reporter positions once his degree is complete. “I’ve learned that following what makes you happy is the most important thing. I have a lot to think about,” he says. “But I want to concentrate on finishing school first.”

Daughter Abbie isn’t able to attend the April 27 ceremony in person — she’s in L.A. working in the movie industry and visited Welch last month — but she’ll get up early to watch the UM-Dearborn YouTube stream of her dad getting his diploma. Welch says his parents will be in attendance. And they'll see their hard-working son get a degree that was three decades in the making.

“I hope they are proud, like I was of Abbie. I did this for them. I did this for Abbie. I did this for me,” Welch says. “Nothing can change the past. But you can make decisions now that can change the course of your future.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.