It takes an extra push to earn an online degree

April 27, 2022 / by / 0 Comment
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Tuesday afternoon’s Spring Commencement ceremony celebrated graduates who earned their master’s degrees from the College of Education.

GCU News Bureau
Photos by Ralph Freso

Online students overcome all sorts of obstacles to complete their degrees, but here’s one we haven’t heard before: She answered discussion questions while in labor.

Here’s what several people who graduated Tuesday said about their experience:

MARISSA OVERTON

“My journey to my master’s has been quite an adventure. I started this degree knowing that teaching was where my heart was pulling me. At the time, I had a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old keeping me extremely busy. I was working full time as the assistant director of a day care but just knew I needed to do more for myself and my family.

Man’s best friend congratulates one of the graduates at Tuesday morning’s ceremony for College of Humanities and Social Sciences master’s graduates.

“As soon as I started my degree program, I was hired as a fourth grade special education teacher. I had never taught a class in my life and jumped in full force, learning as I went. My program at GCU has been amazing at supporting my teaching career and helping me provide the best instruction for my students. 

“About five months into my first school year of being both a teacher and a student, I found out I was pregnant with my third baby. I felt I had way too much on my plate and couldn’t keep up. Pregnancy does not treat me well, and I was sick and miserable. I seriously wanted to give up.

“My husband was working out of town for weeks at a time, and I was doing this on my own. But I decided that I wasn’t going to just give up on something so important to me, and I wanted to push through and show my kids that I can do hard things. 

“I had my third baby two weeks into a new course. I remember thinking the timing could not have been any worse. In fact, I remember responding to discussion posts while in labor!

“After my little girl was born, I spent many nights awake with her and working on papers at the same time, trying to navigate life with three kids under age 4 and operating on zero sleep.

“I am so thankful for that decision to push through and prove to myself and my family that I could do it. Here I am today, the first in my family to get a master’s degree, showing my kids that anything is possible. Mommy did it.” 

CAROL OLLENDICK

“My father passed away on Feb. 4, 2021, two days after my parents’ 67th anniversary and my mom’s 82nd birthday. I wanted to finish my master’s in professional counseling, which I had started in 2009, to fulfill a promise to my parents. Once I re-enrolled, I told my mom in person and let my dad know – I talk to him all the time even though he is gone.

The joy was real Tuesday morning at Spring Commencement for those who earned master’s degrees from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“My mother passed away on Oct. 8, 2021, from complications of West Nile virus. I say that she also died of a broken heart since she and my father were together for 68 years. I told her it was OK that she lets go so she can be with dad. They had a great life together and raised seven of us to be great adults. I am the baby of the seven kids, and I am one of two that has a college education. 

“I am a single mother of a great 30-year-old son. My parents did the most to help me raise him – I was the only child who was a single parent.

“My son and father were BFFs. I am very grateful for my son, who spent a lot of time with his grandparents, especially in their golden years, when he could have been hanging out with people his age. Instead, he was there any time his grandparents needed him, and he also has been one of my biggest supporters, even after having such a horrible 2021 with both of his grandparents passing away.

“I always appreciated my parents’ support because they could have given up on me when I was younger and doing a lot of stupid things. I could have ended up in jail or dead – that was the type of life I was leading until I gave birth to my son. I knew I had to turn it around.”

ASHLEY SMITH

“My graduate studies started to be fully underway in 2017, but at the end of August that year, Hurricane Harvey forced me to take a leave of absence and change my program to counseling – I felt compelled to help others that were in the shelter with me.

“I have been helping take care of my aging stepfather and dealing with the house still being down to mostly studs because we don’t have the funds to repair it. I also have dealt with my dog having a cancerous mass removed, my husband losing and gaining jobs, my mother becoming a domestic violence survivor (I flew out to be with her for almost a month), all while studying for my classes.”

LESLIE MALVEAUX

“Often, our truest passions emerge in childhood. I lost both of my parents as a teenager in high school. However, I had to learn at an early age that my strength was in my struggle.

“After the death of my parents, my high school teachers and college professors inspired me. I was able to take the values my parents taught me to become who I needed to become in life.

“I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Studies. In memory of my parents, I received my Master of Education from GCU on Tuesday. I am an educator who has been inspired by my own trials in life to enhance the lives of children and their families.

“My motto in life is Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

GAYLE WOODARD

“I live in south central Pennsylvania, and I started my GCU degree journey in June 2017. My husband was sick and in a nursing home. My mother was sick as well. My husband died in 2019 and my mother in 2021, but I continued to see to their well-being, working fulltime, being an active church member. 

“It wasn’t easy, but I remained dedicated to my online studies because I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t complete this task that seemed so insurmountable. I still work full time, and although I had to take a leave of absence a few times, I graduated with a B.A. in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Biblical Studies. 

“My three adult daughters all live out of state and are so excited, especially because they recall how passionate I was about each of them getting college degrees. They did very well, so they were some of my biggest supporters and encouraged me to stay on track. At times it felt as if they were returning the mode of discipline I used on them, but to God be the glory. 

“I’m retiring next year from my job at a major university here in Pennsylvania after 34 years there. I’ve also been ministering and preaching at various churches as well as my own, and my prayer is to be an inspirational motivational speaker after retirement. 

“I would like to go forth and travel to wherever God sends me and use the tools that GCU has so wonderfully passed along to me.”

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