When you follow God’s will, good things will happen.
Pam Rutledge is a living example of that. In recent years, she accepted God into her life and Jesus into her heart, and she’s living a changed and transformed life now, the 35-year-old Morris College senior says.
After losing her dad in a car wreck when she was 8, Rutledge acknowledges she led a wayward life until she was almost 29.
Two failed attempts at college and four children out of wedlock were partially the result of “looking for love in all the wrong places” and trying to fill the void of not having her father growing up, she said.
In 2011, at 28 years old, Rutledge — a Camden native — says she hit bottom. On welfare and basically unable to provide for herself and her kids, she says she gave her life to God — her heavenly Father — and decided to follow Jesus.
With her newfound faith, Rutledge said she started to change how she thought about herself, and new friends helped to provide a new environment, which made all the difference in the world to her.
Those friends were pursuing God and their dreams, she said, and she decided to do the same.
Rutledge said she felt God was telling her to step out in faith and go to college, even while raising her four children. So, in 2014, at 32, she did and enrolled at Morris College.
Three years later, Rutledge is a senior at Morris and says, “It was the best decision I have ever made in my life to take that step.”
She’s been a non-traditional student success story — taking a different path toward degree completion with solid grades and plenty of extracurricular activities to boot. Her story is so special that Rutledge was recently named the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities’ Student of the Year.
The award includes a $3,000 scholarship — one of the largest scholarship awards granted through the organization, which works on behalf of the 20 independent, nonprofit colleges and universities in the state. To be an award recipient, a student must be a rising senior and have a demonstrated need, according to the organization.
What makes Rutledge’s story so unique though is she wants to use her education and life lessons learned to ultimately help youth and steer them in the right direction.
She’s set to graduate in May with a Bachelor in Sociology from Morris. She intends to pursue a Master in Counseling and Abnormal Behavior after that from the University of South Carolina.
One of her career goals is to become a licensed substance abuse counselor, mentor to youth and life coach through the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
She has already gained plenty of hands-on experience through volunteering in prison ministry for the last five years with youth offenders and others at Wateree Correctional Institution in Rembert. She’s also actively involved in youth outreach ministry through her church, Cathedral of Praise, in Camden.
She says she believes God wants to use the experiences she went through in life to give advice and help others.
“Now, I can be a solution for somebody else,” Rutledge said. “To give them advice and help them to avoid certain wrong decisions. If only I had someone to relate to, like myself, when I was wandering.”
Rutledge said she was made aware of the student-of-the-year award and scholarship opportunity through a professor and personal mentor at Morris, Carlotta Stackhouse. Rutledge took a leadership class last spring under Stackhouse and since then has developed a close friendship.
Stackhouse says she felt Rutledge was perfect for the state honor and helped to nominate her.
“Pam, to me, is the epitome of a young, black woman who has a vision, not only for her future but for the future of the next generation,” Stackhouse said. “She also has a caring personality and is overall a wonderful young woman.”
In tune with her faith, Rutledge gives the thanks to God.
“All the praise and glory go to God,” Rutledge said. “My life has changed, and everything is because of Him.”