Written by By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer
Monday, 21 December 2009 08:52
Rebecca Ann Tirabassi's message is one of hope, not only for Saturday's graduates at Bowling Green State University, but for anyone who's suffered from addiction.
Tirabassi, a binge drinker and alcoholic by the time she was a teenager, dropped out of BGSU in 1975 and headed to California where her life dramatically changed. She has spent decades giving people hope they can get sober, finish school and heal their relationships.
Though a successful author and speaker, Tirabassi never found closure from her unfinished bachelor's degree. But five years ago she happened to speak to a BGSU employee who told her of its new on-line degree program. When she found taking one class a semester too slow a pace, she crammed her last eight classes, worth 22 hours, into 12 weeks this past summer. Tirabassi completed her degree in liberal studies with a concentration in communications and telecommunications.
Saturday, prior to walking across the stage at age 55 to receive that long-awaited degree, earned cum laude, Tirabassi was a keynote speaker representing the College of Arts and Sciences. She addressed 554 undergraduates from her college and the College of Education and Human Development, whose student speaker was Mary Rucker.
After graduating from Berea High School in 1972, Tirabassi started BGSU the following year as a physical education major - and the third generation of her family to love alcohol.
"I was an alcoholic when I entered Bowling Green, and when I dropped out as a sophomore," the California resident said in a phone interview before flying to Ohio. "I struggled with alcoholism from an early age."
She told the graduates she was a binge-drinker even in high school, and it was after a particularly dark night of binge drinking in 1975 that she decided to drop out of BGSU. She moved to California with some girlfriends and became even more addicted to alcohol, then drugs, and at times became suicidal.
"I felt that by the time I was 21, I had ruined my life," Tirabassi admitted. "And I didn't know how to get it back."
She became involved in an alcohol-related car accident, and after the court hearing drove to a church. Only one person was there, a janitor, who told her that God loved her, just the way she was.
"I knew of no one who loved me - not even myself," she shared with the students. "But this total stranger gave me the hope to pray a simple prayer, asking God to forgive me and to help me start my life over. And God did."
Tirabassi immediately stopped drinking. She returned home to Ohio and became a youth worker, got married, had a baby and shared her story with young people in the hope they would not make similar mistakes. A certified life coach, she founded Change Your Life Daily multi-media company and Burning Hearts Inc., a nonprofit organization.
While the degree won't change her career, Tirabassi said it "completes the circle," and changes her on the inside. "I've spoken on numerous college campuses to students," she said over the phone. "It's deeply humbling dropping out as an alcoholic teenager ... and to come back now is more like a victory. I don't need the degree to do what I do. I needed to conquer the story line that says there's hope when you're hopeless, ... and success where you've failed before, and I always like to say with God's help."
She credits BGSU's on-line classes as the whole reason she was able to complete her degree. She particularly praised her advisor, Lee Ann Koenigbauer, who went above and beyond in helping Tirabassi achieve her dream.
Tirabassi's Web site is www.changeyourlifedaily.com.
Last Updated on Monday, 21 December 2009 09:32