Life isn’t linear; it can often take you places you never expected to be and meet people you never expected to meet.
At least that’s what Suzanne Fontaine’s experience has been like ever since moving to Vermont; one chance encounter after another shaping her life and guiding her purpose.
“I have the most boring life,” she’ll say humorously.
Fontaine, a Vermont State University Global Studies major, business owner, and mother of two, opened the coffee shop Bonnet & Main in in Manchester, Vermont in 2019 following a long career of culinary passion.
The comfy cafe sits behind the Northshire Bookstore, a quintessential New England tourist destination brimming with charm.
Ever since leaving Florida for a job in Stratton, just a town over from Manchester, she’s enriched her life and the community, from serving on the board of the farmer’s market to serving as a justice of the peace.
After a life-changing meeting with an inspiring customer, and despite being up most days before 4 a.m. to bake for the cafe, in 2022 Fontaine decided to add student into her schedule.
“[Not having a college degree] felt like it didn’t matter until it started mattering to me,” Fontaine says, reflecting on the choice to finish her degree.
She says most semesters were spent learning in the cafe, taking an hour or two out of her day with her laptop to attend classes online and then staying up late into the evening to finish homework.
Yet a higher education wasn’t always on her radar.
When asked about the importance of a college degree today, she says that of course it can be valuable if you know what to do with it.
Otherwise, she cautioned, it can be an overwhelming experience for someone so young, as well as a hefty investment in both time and money.
As a teenager, Fontaine had no idea what she wanted to do with her life when others her age were thinking about choosing college majors. Even now, as an adult, she saw the same dilemma happen in her own house.
“My son knew exactly what he wanted to do, so he found a college to do it,” She recalled. “But my daughter was completely different. She said she hated school and didn’t know what to do, and I was like ‘Then don’t go.’
I know that may be mortifying for other parents to hear that, but I was like, ‘You’ll only be spending a bunch of money on something you don’t want to do.’”
Fontaine’s own journey back into academics started after she had her kids and began accumulating some credits by taking classes through Community College of Vermont.
But between growing businesses and raising a family, time was always tight to keep it all in balance.
“There’s just only so much you can do in a day,” she said.
It was only after her kids were out of the house that the time felt right for her to finally start thinking about her own future.
After a semester of taking full-time classes and managing the coffee shop, Fontaine expresses relief looking back on the hard work she’s accomplished to get her to this point.
Now she only has her internship in Dublin to pursue a career in climate justice to look forward to as her college career comes to close.
When asked what advice she could impart for people thinking about or newly attending school, Fontaine refers adamantly to the same advice she gave her own daughter.
“It’s okay to not know what you want to do. Maybe start with some prerequisites or trying something out that’s interesting. But you never know when your path might change, so it’s okay to not know and hold off on paying for college until you’re ready.”