My College Graduation

I resisted going back to school for a long time. I didn’t have a life plan that included utilizing a degree, and I really disliked the online course experience. Over time my life plans changed, and finishing my degree became much more appealing. As TH started his second year of his MBA program and we had a clearer understanding of what the next year would be like, I realized that I had the perfect window to return to BYU and finish my degree in-person, instead of online. That Husband would move in with my parents and work for my dad to fund this little adventure of mine, and my parents would get to spend time like never before with their favorite grandchild.

Once we had that lined up I started into the process of figuring out what classes I would need to take in order to finish, and how the process worked. I stumbled around a lot, but got in touch with the advisors for the English majors and emailed back and forth with her several times to make sure I understood exactly what I would need to do. The process was a bit complicated because I needed to do a few petitions, including getting special permission from the English department to substitute a Statistics course instead of finding an equivalent for Italian 202 (I had worked through several Italian semesters before I got married, but couldn’t find an affordable option that met the requirements in Chicago), but it all worked out in the end.

Once I had in writing from the advisor “Everything looks correct”, meaning “Yes, the detailed plan you wrote out for me means you will graduate in August” I dove right in! My plan was to take British Literature and Statistics online between November and May, and then start courses at BYU in June. We found a babysitter for T1 and I trudged through Statistics (accompanied by lots of tears, as my math-related skills were poor when I graduated from high school and had eroded considerably in the almost-a-decade since graduating) and my Brit Lit class, finishing just in time to take one last final when I arrived on BYU’s campus. Everything was going exactly as I’d hoped!

And then I walked into the advisor’s office to check up on my graduation plans and was told that I was short a course if I wanted to walk. At BYU the max course load (without special permission) for a semester is 18 credits, and since this was a term that was half the length the max course load was 9 credits. I had already signed up for 9 credits, preferring to do as many courses in a real classroom as possible. The idea of adding on yet another class (so 12 credits total, or the equivalent of a 24 credit semester) was exhausting, but I knew I was having a baby and that this might be my last chance to finish in the way I wanted. I was very, very lucky because the last class I needed was an elective course, so even during Summer Term I had a few options. The next day I went from classroom to classroom trying to find a professor who would take me on knowing that I was signing up for a heavy course load (the first professor turned down my request for his signature immediately), but my pleas of “I’m pregnant and moving to California and this is my last chance to graduate” won over the professor for Short Story and so I made one last trip to the bookstore to buy yet another backpack full of novels and textbooks in order to graduate. I was determined to make this graduation happen, no matter what. LESSON LEARNED: Double, triple, and quadruple check your plans when making important life decisions. No one else cares about your future as much as you do.

A few days into the term, I got really sick. My first trimester with T1 was relatively easy, but this time around I was exhausted, weak, and shaking all day every day. (Oh yeah, and I ran a half-marathon during all of this. Let’s call this the summer of “I put in months of work to prepare for this and nothing is going to hold me back from achieving what I’ve been training/working toward”.) My life revolved around making it through my shower, through my breakfast, through the walk uphill to campus, through my classes, through my homework, all so I could crawl back into bed and be kept up half the night with pregnancy-induced insomnia and half-dozen trips to the bathroom each night. I can’t remember anything more miserable than those 6 weeks.

But you know what? That walk across the stage is worth it. It’s worth any and all amount of work and sacrifice. I think the only other time I’ve ever felt this proud of myself was when I birthed a baby. Months after graduation I would wake up in the morning and my first thought would be “I have a bachelors degree. I actually graduated from college!”

Since then I’d been ducking my head a bit when people congratulated me for finishing (I feel like I’m surrounded by people with master’s degrees and doctorate degrees so a bachelor’s degree felt silly), and then I saw on Wikipedia that only 30% of people in the United States have a Bachelor’s Degree. What!?!? Go me! And go everyone else who has one too. Maybe someday I’ll try to join the 8% in the US who have Master’s degrees.

Thanks to my family for coming down to support me! Shay when you graduate I promise my whole family will be there cheering you on as well!

That feels good! And now both of our children, no matter the gender, will know that graduating from college is not optional in That Household.

The following photos were taken by Aubrey of Every Little Moment Photography. She emailed me asking if I’d be interested in a photography swap and I was so excited to be able to get some family photos when all of us were together in Utah! I went to her studio and did pictures of her family, and several weeks later she showed up after I walked across the stage and did family photos for me. Outside of my family she and her assistant were one of the first people to know about my pregnancy. Thanks Aubrey!

My new favorite family picture.

You’ll see I have my hand under my belly in almost every picture. I felt like I looked huge! I wanted to make sure there was no mistaking that I was pregnant and not just a bit tubby from too many visits to the vending machines during class breaks.

This brings our total degrees in the family to four: two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees. Too bad I only hold one of them :).

While we finished up pictures, T1 led Nana around and let us know how how “over this” he was.

The stock photo that they take right before you walk cross the stage is soooo cheesy. I’m really glad Aubrey was there to take these.

This last one is cheesy, I know, but it does a great job describing how graduation made me feel. Even though I don’t have any immediate plans to get a job or further my education, finishing this step opens up a whole new world of possibilities that I didn’t previously have at my disposal.

Some thanks are in order.

First, to my dear husband. He encouraged me every step of the way, but gave me the space to come to this decision on my own. It means a lot to me that despite the messages embeddedMormon culture, he believes that education for women is just as important as it is for men. This is one of the many ways you’ve changed me for the better.

Second, to those of you who gently and respectfully encouraged me to consider finishing. Erin, in particular, comes to mind. And thanks to all those on Twitter who helped keep me entertained during Short Story this summer, AKA Worst-Class-Ever. Couldn’t have survived those 2.5 hour mind-numbing lectures without you.

And most importantly, to my parents. Thank you. Thank you for funding my education, for your patience as I bounced form major to major (and failed a few classes in the process), for agreeing to take on the responsibility of caring for my child so I could focus on my degree, and for driving down to Utah to cheer me across the stage as I celebrated this major accomplishment. I love you guys so much.

41 thoughts on “My College Graduation

  1. Congratulations Jenna!! I’m so happy for you – for graduating and for T2!! You look lovely in all the pictures =)

  2. This is a huge deal, Jenna. Congratulations. I really admire you sticking with it and getting it done, despite the challenges.

  3. I feel exactly same the way, I restart my degree in February and am aiming to process in 2017.
    It is so hard to take that step to get back on it, but once you’ve taken it, nothing stops you!

  4. Jenna, I am so, so so, so very proud of you for finishing. Your initial lack of interest in finishing always perplexed me; not because I thought you NEEDED a degree, but because I find all my education to be such an incredible privilege that I couldn’t comprehend someone who had the ability to finish a degree but just lost interest. I know quite a few individuals that desperately wished they could have attended college but were unable to do so – either for financial reasons, because they grew up in a culture where women were not educated, or because they self-labeled themselves as not smart enough for college – and to see a bright, young woman decide she just didn’t care about a degree hurt my heart. But now that you’ve finished, even if you never ‘use’ your degree, you have something that can never be taken away from you and a great tool to show the value of education to your children. A million congratulations to you!

  5. Good for you! I didn’t finish my degree, and at the moment have no plans to do so, but I’m so so glad to see that you were able to finish your program. Congratulations!

  6. Congratulations on graduating!!! It really is a huge accomplishment, especially after taking a break (because the force of inertia is against you then). I think it’s very impressive you were able to get everything done on time despite the stress, loneliness, sickness and time crunch issues.

    And your pictures are beautiful. Love the one of you looking into your new bright future!

  7. Jenna, I am one of many who are so, so, so proud of you for this accomplishment. And how nice to have such lovely pictures from the big event!

  8. Congratulations!!! It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? I’m so glad I pushed through and got my degree despite getting married and having a baby (and knowing I’d probably never use it) while still in school. I owe that to my parents, they raised me in a way that I not getting a degree or quitting partway through never crossed my mind. So I’m glad your husband and family supported you in this decision! And I agree, checking that ‘college degree’ box when filling out paperwork feels SO GOOD!

  9. way to go! one of my proudest moments also. i knew so many of my classmates who chose not to attend any of the graduation ceremonies and i was so happy to go to any ceremony that celebrated my accomplishments! great photos of a great day. :)

  10. Why is graduating from college not optional for your kids? I would much rather my kids do what they want to do, whether it’s college, vo tech school, beauty college or whatever. Going to college solely for the sake of going is stupid.

  11. Congratulations! This is a huge accomplishment. You should be proud. I’m a bit confused why you think Mormon culture says you don’t need to finish a degree when President Hinckley always put such a big push towards education for both genders, but whatever. I’ve never fit in with cultural Mormons. And the culture isn’t what’s important anyway: that would be the gospel (as you know).

    Jenna Reply:

    I think the problem is that the messages are very conflicting. Couples are told:

    Don’t put off marriage.
    Don’t put off having kids.
    Get as much education as you can.
    The man is the provider.
    The woman stays home.

    The result is young couples with lots of school ahead of them when they marry, having kids when they can barely afford it, the wife feeling guilty if she’s not home with the kids all day, and the husband trying to figure out how to both provide for the family and get an education. When does the woman have time to finish school in all of this?

    sarah Reply:

    I agree that you shouldn’t put off having kids, however it is important to be ready to have kids. My husband and I just married in June. He just started law school, and I am finishing my undergrad. Because of this, we aren’t going to try for kids until he graduates in 3 years. I definitely need to finish my degree, which is one year, and we don’t want to be in any debt when we bring a child into the world. But I think a woman’s education is just as important as the mans! Congratulations for finishing!

    Thais Reply:

    Oh that’s ALWAYS been my biggest annoyance with church culture. Main reason I wanted to run from Utah! The mixed messages and the feeling that everyone has of doing it all at once. I’ve learned to put these mixed messages aside and just trust God in the timing of things and to not follow the culture. I live by Ecclesiastes 3 on these things and I’m a strong believes that the Church’s intentions is not to overwhelm members with these seemingly conflicting doctrines, but that we as members need to put them into a timeline that works for us as individuals and as families according to our own personal revelations. It’s too sad that we judge each other’s timelines so harshly as not following the “rules” and have each other feel guilty for decisions that work for our own families.

    Between the two of us I definitely hold more degrees and certifications. Tyler has a Bachelors and a Microsoft certification. I have two separate Associates (an AA and a ADN), a BSN, my RN license, and now my CVN certification… and I’m in school for my FNP and will graduate with that and a post masters certificate in holistic nursing. We’ve been married for 7 years and there’s only been 2 years total of our marriage that I wasn’t in school. lol It’s really quite insane and I can’t seem to stop… already thinking about my DNP. I’ve always been the young women leader that focused on education for women instead of the 40 lessons we have a year on eternal marriage and families for the young women. I just feel so so so passionate about women getting an education. Anyway I’m rambling and you already know this.

    I was thrilled when you went back to school and was proud of you then and I’m super proud of you now that you’re done!

  12. Congratulations Jenna. I know how proud I was when I graduated, and I can’t imagine how proud everyone in your family is of you for overcoming SO MANY HURDLES in order to complete your dream. Good for you, and good for your family.

  13. Congratulations! I think it’s an awesome accomplishment! Don’t let the graduate degrees around you cheapen the hard work you’ve done. How many of them have had two pregnancies and raised a handsome little boy?! I cannot imagine how I would have finished my Bachelor’s if I had a baby (and another on the way) – that’s a true feat!

  14. Congratulations! Getting a degree is a big deal. It’s easy to feel like it’s not when your surrounded by people who have one. I have a PhD, but often don’t feel it’s anything important as I am surrounded by people who have them at work. But as you said not many people in the population have one and you should be proud :) Congrats again

  15. Major congrats! You definitely worked your tail off to get there. Just a personal anecdote (don’t we love those?) you may not want to only push for a 4 year degree for the kiddos. I have a Bachelor’s from Baylor, and my hubs a 2 year certificate from Texas State Technical College in Electrical Power and Control (they maintain power plants and equipment). Guess who got paid twice what I earned with my 4 year degree? Yup, the technical field ;) It’s not something I would have expected, given the environment I grew up in. But he’s got a steady career with great pay, something that’s hard to come by these days. So, if T1 wants to go to culinary school one day, is that an option? Or would you prefer he put in his 4 years at Uni, then try supplementary education? Are you hoping he takes a liking for business like TH?

    Jenna Reply:

    Yeah, I think with a father on my side who started his own successful business, and a FiL who did the same in Poland, and then TH’s successful career in business we’ll be leaning toward business as an excellent option to pursue (kind of like lawyer families where everyone in each generation goes into law :) ).

    I think we would struggle with culinary school or design school or something else where it’s incredibly difficult to get a return on your investment. We would of course listen to persuasive arguments like I’m sure your husband could have made if we were his parents if our child wanted to pursue alternative options though!

    I know in America it’s very vogue to say things like “Not everyone should go to college” or “Do what makes you happy!” But for TH growing up in (communist/post-communist) Poland that attitude was unheard of. Most everyone in TH’s family has either a master’s or a PhD, and I think he had a grandfather who had TWO doctorates. I’m not sure I think the American way of thinking is the best way in this instance.

    Anna Reply:

    I am interested to know what changed your way of thinking. It seemed for the longest time you didn’t care to finish college and you didn’t seem to value higher education.

    Jenna Reply:

    The answer to the is far longer and more complicate than I’m ready to detail in this comment. I’m not the person I was even a year ago. My thinking about a lot of things has changed.

    Anna Reply:

    Fair enough. Congrats on graduating!

    Cortney Reply:

    The church members who think this way *now* may not have undergone radical shifts in perspective if they’ve always felt that way, so they probably don’t need to describe a journey of change and what led to that change and why. When describing a huge shift in thinking, and comparing that to old thinking, and describing reasons why that thinking changed, yeah, it might look negative. I mean, usually when someone changes it’s because what they are moving into is more appealing to them than what they are moving away from. That can be taken as “negative”, or it can be taken as “here’s why where I am now is preferable, *to me*, over where I used to be.”

    This doesn’t just apply to Jenna, or this situation. So many times when people make huge life changes/philosophy changes and try to describe it people feel as though by moving away from X, Y, Z in favor of A, B, C it’s some kind of slam on X, Y, Z. For example, it was often hard for me to explain why I became a vegetarian. If I was being honest, meat eating people were often offended. Now that I’m eating meat again, when people ask me “why?” and I try to describe it, vegetarians get offended. I’m just being honest and sharing what changed in my thinking, and clearly if I changed that means that I don’t agree with things I used to believe.

    I think people are far to quick to take others’ stories and experiences personally. I have FB friends who say things like “I never knew what love was until I had kids” and “life doesn’t start until you have kids” or variations on that theme. I am childless. I could get mightily offended or I could realize they’re talking about their own experiences and it has nothing to do with me.

    Cécy Reply:

    As you know I grew up in France and people really pushed for kids to go the traditional way: general high school, university. I’ve seen a friend of mine who wanted to go to technical high-school but was told that he was a good student and should stay in the general field. So his parents pushed for that. He ended up dropping out of school because that was not what he wanted ultimately and he wasn’t happy there.
    So instead of getting a technical diploma he became a school drop out and his main job is to be a mover now. I just find it sad.

    Now I believe a diploma is important. Whether this is what defines your career or simply shows that you are able to pull it through college and do the assignments. But I think it’s important to recognize that technical skills are as valuable as mental ones. Some people are just better at technical stuff and ultimately will be happier in that field than force themselves through a general College education. What would we do without plumbers, bakers, electricians?
    I’m glad you say you will be willing to listen to your child’s arguments. That’s good because you never know what your child will be truly interested in.

    Hannah Reply:

    Congratulations again on finishing. I think it’s great that you did it.

    One question, are you wary of cutting off culinary or ‘arty’ educational choices given that you were given some flexibility about career choices yourself?

    I was forced into degrees (law, then business) that I hated. In the end, I dropped out altogether. I started a photography business but we have moved to the US and I can’t work at all so am probably going back to correspondence school to study what I wanted to do in the first place: graphic design. The impact on my relationship with my parents has been significant. I really, truly resented them for a very long time.

    In contrast, my younger brother enforced his desire to do a film degree to the point that he refused to attend university at all if he wasn’t allowed to study what he was interested in. My parents were really averse to him doing it and in the end he was a distinction average student, showed promise in his advertising and journalism electives (including being asked to change majors to take advantage of major internships in those areas) and is now a production manager and department director working in online media advertising making video campaigns for brands like Adidas and Sony. Working in an area you are passionate about can really pay dividends.

    I guess I am just saying that a creative degree or something in a culinary field doesn’t preclude a person from being financially successful. If the current economic climate has demonstrated anything, it’s that conventional education isn’t a guarantee of financial success.

  16. First of all congratulations again. You really had it tough to get it through with the pregnancy and the last minute surprise credits to get. So you very much deserved what you worked so hard for.
    In many ways I think this will be an even stronger example for your children than if you had just graduated in the first place (while still a College Student). You can tell them the difficulties of graduating after, but also the pride you can get from it.

    I’m smiling at your “I’m pregnant” pictures. Isn’t it funny how we feel so pregnant in the beginning but then looking back no one would have known but us?
    I remember when at 10ish weeks I had to go to a work related even, dressed in regular clothes (my uniform could have kept my pregnancy secret until 20 weeks easily). I felt so self conscious thinking about my bigger belly, but now I look at the pictures and I don’t think I even look like I ate too many doughnuts!m:D

  17. I just want to send you huge congrats! You accomplished something not many people can accomplish and you should be very proud of yourself. Having that little piece of paper means so much to me and we are like you in that our children will have no other option but to also get one. Even if you never ‘use’ your degree, you’ll definitely show your children the importance of education. Congrats again!

  18. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! This was a particularly meaningful post for me as I am going to be graduating a bit late due to adviser error (Apparently this useless chick got fired after poorly advising and subsequently delaying graduation for a lot of people. I’ve run into at least two women just in the ladies room this semester who had the same issue with the same chick. Rant over.) and I’ve been feeling so stupid/lame/old/unaccomplished because everyone I know has graduated and most are currently working on a masters degree and will finish in the same time I get my bachelors. And then I feel even more stupid because it’s a psychology degree,which is by and large considered pretty useless. Because of this I was thinking I wasn’t going to walk because it “didn’t mean anything” or “wasn’t a big deal” even though I do feel like it’s a huge deal. College is hard (at least for me)! Thank you thank you thank you for not diminishing your accomplishments and by extension making me feel better about mine. Seriously, thank you.

  19. Congrats on completing your degree! I think many women who have successful marriages tend to choose being a SAHM/W which is awesome but I think having a degree is planning for the unexpected. Before my DH and I got married, I earned my MBA before he finished his PhD – both of us planning to be career oriented people. Well, the economy tanked and the sign on bonuses dwindled and jobs for me became more geographically distant. I chose to freelance while my husband worked full-time. Then we started a family and I completely wanted to be home 100% of the time. Shortly after our 17 month old was born my husband started dealing with a health issue that made us assess what the future could look like. It was a wake up call! I never imagined being divorced but I never imagined I become a widow or have a husband who was unable to work. Thankfully, all of our fears were laid to rest and he’ll be fine. I share this because so many women I know seem to put such blind faith in the future and we just never know. Having a degree is financial security for your family’s future.

  20. I love this story :) Congratulations to you! For overcoming all the hardships and obstacles that stood in your way and for accomplishing something so great! Only 30% – wow!

    And I just love the idea of the photography swap! Those pictures turned out beautiful :)

  21. Congratulations! No matter the path, getting your degree is always a major accomplishment and you are right to be proud.

  22. Jenna — I’ve been following a long with your journeys since you were first engaged. I have to say that, even though I’ve never met you in person — so this might come off as a little creepy — I am so unbelievably proud of you. As a woman who wants to have everything, I really appreciate strong role models in women who balance all they have going on and are real about the struggle to maintain equilibrium and most of all happiness. You do it with aplomb and with an honesty that I’ve really come to count on. More than that — you should be so so so so proud of YOURSELF! This is a huge accomplishment, one that will benefit you and your family forever.
    Congrats again!!

  23. I will not be walking when I graduate. Am I going to fly to some random place in Michigan for this? No way. I didn’t even want to do it when I actually attended a physical school. Keeping the trend after not walking for high school. I can’t do that gown!

  24. Way to Go Jenna! Congrats on finishing one of the HARDEST things in life (a degree at the Y :) Are you in Utah?! Duane and i are in Salt Lake and would LOVE to see you and S!

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