The Education of Faith B

One of the things that bothered me was that Faith would say from time to time “I want to finish my degree, but….”  I got tired of hearing her say those words, but I knew that she needed a little nudge to get started again. 

The Nagging of A. Terry Bryant

Faith’s Thoughts:

When I graduated high school in 1997, I did not want to go to college. In my parents’ generation, high school completion was enough to have a successful career. I felt like if I wasn’t aspiring to become a lawyer, doctor or engineer, college was unnecessary. I figured I would get a job, work hard, then move up in the company.  After graduation, I was hired at a staffing agency as a front desk person. I liked my job. I worked hard and learned as much as I could.  When I would apply to move up in the company, I kept reaching a ceiling.  I was told I couldn’t get promoted because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but then I was told that I had reached a ceiling in my pay as well.  What that meant to me was no matter how hard I worked and how much I learned, I would be stuck at the same pay for rest of my career without a college degree.  That was the motivation I needed to “want” to go to college.  I was out of high school for 4 years by then and I was a divorced mother of 3 children.

Once I got back into a learning environment, I realized that I loved learning.  I enjoyed college way more than high school.  After a few semesters at Miami-Dade College and Broward College, I moved to Daytona Beach and enrolled into Daytona Beach Community College (now Daytona State College).  I found it easier to focus on school in Daytona Beach because the cost of living was lower and there were fewer distractions.  After 2 years in Volusia county, I completed my Associates of Art Degree and I immediately enrolled into a 4-year program.  After a few semesters, I had to stop going to school.  Work had become demanding.  My kids’ schedules were full, and I was not being a focused student.  Learning stopped being fun and my grades suffered. I decided to focus on my kids and work.  I kept a job throughout my time in school and I kept being denied promotions because I lacked a bachelor’s degree. To make ends meet, I always worked a second job.  3 kids and 2 jobs meant school was the last thing on my mind.  I set my focus on my kids graduating and going to college.

Davion graduated high school in 2012.  To my delight he went straight to college avoiding the path I took of starting a family young.  Nicholas graduated high school in 2016 and went straight to college as well.  Nick was blessed to be able to play college football which helped with much of his college cost.  When Nick left for college in 2016, that’s when I started thinking about going back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree. That’s also when I found out that I was no longer eligible for any financial aid, not even loans. So, completing my degree would require more than just a time investment, it would require an immediate financial investment.

When I started dating Terry, whenever we would talk about my desire to go back to school, he would always encourage me to do so. He didn’t just encourage me though, he nagged me. “When are you going to enroll in school” he would say often.  It was annoying.  I thought he was telling me that I wasn’t educated enough for him. But what I learned was if you tell Terry that you want to accomplish something, he will encourage (nag) you to do what you say you want to do (which makes him the perfect alarm clock).  I finally told him that I didn’t qualify for any financial aid and I couldn’t afford to pay for my classes as I was sending money to 2 kids in college. Terry’s response: “How much do you need for your classes?” I knew then that he fully supported me going back to school.  Not because he didn’t think I was good enough without a degree, but because he knew I was good enough and he wanted to support me.

I started working for Daytona State College in January 2018. Terry fully supported my career change. A part of my motivation to switch careers was the academic benefits of working for a college. I planned to resume taking classes in July after I had more time to learn my new role at work. But, a series of events made it advantageous for me to speed up my enrollment date 4 months sooner than planned. In March 2018, I enrolled in school after a 9-year hiatus.  I was nervous because my last few semesters (many years ago) were difficult. I felt like such a failure because I couldn’t focus on school at all.  I didn’t even properly withdraw from classes, I just stopped going.  I was so embarrassed while talking to the academic advisor. I didn’t want anyone to see my transcripts. It didn’t help that she was my co-worker; I had to work with her and she saw all those F’s on my transcripts.  After reviewing my transcripts and doing a degree audit, I found out that I was just 9 classes away from completing my bachelor’s degree.  I had spent 9 years out of school. I could have taken 1 class a year and been finished. But I couldn’t look back anymore, only forward. I had the support of my husband and my employer.  I couldn’t waste any more time with regret.  My plan was to take 1 class a semester.  I wanted to ease into it. I thought Terry would agree with one class a semester since we would have to take money out of our budget to pay for the class and the book.  But in typical Terry form, he “encouraged” me to take more than 1 class a semester.  I was actually upset and with Terry for suggesting I take more than 1 class at a time. I didn’t think I could handle it, I didn’t want to use our hard-earned money and fail again.  I was having anxiety about it.  Terry sat down with me and reminded me that I wasn’t a single mom of 3 kids anymore. I had the support of my husband and not just financial support.

I agreed to take a full course load and Terry followed through on his promise of support. He would wash the dishes and take care of the household chores so that I had time to study after work.  He even read my text book with me so that he could be my study partner.  The first semester back, I made the Dean’s list!  That gave me the confidence I need to keep going.  Every semester came with its own set of challenges, but we made it through them with great grades.  As it turns out, I never lost my love for learning!  It had just been buried by responsibilities of life.  This past December, I completed my final class of my undergraduate program, 16 years after starting it.  My degree came in the mail this month and Mr. Bryant framed it and put it next to his on the wall the same day. Now he’s nagging (encouraging) me to go to grad school.  Not because he doesn’t think I’m good enough with a bachelor’s degree, but because he knows I am good enough for grad school and he knows it’s what I want.

– Faith

The Education of Faith B

Terry’s Thoughts (T2):

In the months leading to our wedding, Faith and I talked about my upcoming graduation.  I had previously talked about travelling to Washington, DC to walk for my MBA. Yet, we decided not to go and would have a virtual graduation ceremony here at the house. One of the things that bothered me was that Faith would say from time to time “I want to finish my degree, but….”  I got tired of hearing her say those words, but I knew that she needed a little nudge to get started again.  I had just spent 5+ years completing both my Bachelors and Masters degrees.  I knew that sometimes people need a little “nudge” to get started.  With that in mind, I decided to “nudge” Faith into completing her Bachelors degree.

In the beginning, Faith wanted to start slow…really slow.  I knew that if she started working on her degree one course per semester, the length of time needed to complete it could potentially discourage her.  So, we sat down and charted how many courses she needed to finish her degree.  During this time, it became apparent that we (this was a partnership, so we were in this together) were going to need about 15 months to complete everything.  I encouraged her to speak to an academic advisor to make sure that our calculations were correct.  After she spoke with the advisor and set the plan in motion, I knew what I needed to do…become a coach/cheerleader.

Many people don’t realize that when someone they care about goes back to school to complete their journey after an extended period of time, they may need someone to help them stay focused on the task ahead.  I understood that as in my past, I had people who continued to encourage me while I worked. It would now be my turn to pay it forward with Faith.  When Faith first moved to Daytona, she came with the intention of completing her Bachelor’s degree, yet, with the duties and responsibilities of rearing three children, she was only able to reach the halfway point: an Associates degree.  I too only had an Associates degree prior to working on my next level and had an extended time between the completion of my Associates degree.  I knew the trials and temptations that would come as she got closer to completion of her degree.

With that in mind, we began the process of completing her degree.  Now, my goal as coach was to ensure that she remained on track with her assignments both daily and weekly.  My other task as a cheerleader was to keep her encouraged when those moments of frustration and aggravation that I knew would come up from time to time.  Especially those classes that required “group participation” (Ugh!)  The best part of having recently completed a similar journey, I could truly empathize with her during these moments and know what she needed to hear to keep motivated and dedicated to completing her task.

I knew that the kids would be behind her, especially Davion, who was in the final leg of completing his degree.  She was determined to be completed before Princess graduated from high school.  This meant that she would have to go all out and remain focused on the prize: completion of her journey that started over 14 years earlier.  The difference between the start of her journey and as she was heading into the second half of the journey was simple: she now had a helpmate that would be there to help her stay focused and encouraged until completion.  I’m not that important to the process, but I knew that my encouragement and coaching would tap right into her love language: words of affirmation.  By encouraging her and affirming that she was doing the right thing in completing this task, she would know that I loved her and loved that she was going to complete the journey that she started so many years ago.

Once Faith started working on her classes, it became a battle of wills: will Faith want to choke someone for not participating in the group activities and pull out her retired “card” or will she remain the calm, professional Faith and help motivate the team to do what they were supposed to do.  In the classes that required group participation, she did a marvelous job keeping everyone engaged and working as a team.  I admired her dedication and focus to keeping the team together to “get that ‘A’”.  I know the few classes that I had requiring group participation, I did NOT have the patience that Faith did, but I did do what I needed to do to keep them engaged so that I wouldn’t get a failing grade.

When she reached her capstone class (the last class that was needed for her degree), she went to apply for graduation.  Upon applying for graduation, we found out a very nasty surprise: the academic advisor gave her incorrect information and she needed 3 more classes after the capstone class.  Faith was initially disappointed and let down, but I reminded her that the classes that she needed to complete were not upper level classes and that she had the necessary tools to complete them.  After getting over the initial disappointment, she buckled down to complete the task that was ahead of her: the capstone.  Once she got into the capstone class, she tackled it like she tackled any other challenge in her life; she took control and made it submit to her will.

Once she completed her capstone class, we were in the final stretch.  I realized that now would be the time that the coach in me would have to take the lead rather than the cheerleader.  She would need to take these classes just as serious as the upper-level classes and I needed to help her remain focused on the prize.  We have a saying, “short-term sacrifices for long term success.”  There were many times during the final months that we could have travelled or done something that would have taken her away from her studies, but in the end, it was more important for Faith to complete her classwork.  This was one of several “short-term sacrifices” that we made to ensure that the long-term goal was reached.

When she submitted the final coursework assignment, there was a sense of relief and reflection.  We were relieved that it was over, but we reflected on the entire journey.  She knew that she had the capability to complete the work, but the added support from me allowed her to focus on what needed to be done to get it completed.  One of the benefits of having a helpmate is the fact that when one needs support, the other one should be there to give them the support that they need to reach their dreams and goals.  The joy that I had watching Faith complete the task that she had started all those years ago filled me with pride in her accomplishment.  It was not that I had a major part in her completing her degree, but my joy was watching the woman that I love recognize that the dream and desire that she had was coming to fruition.  This joy and satisfaction that I had could not be contained, but this wasn’t my victory lap, it was Faith’s.

Once her final grade was posted and her transcript showed that her degree had been conferred, the waiting game began.  We had to wait for that little piece of paper to arrive in the mail.  I had so many things that I wanted to do to celebrate her accomplishing her goal, but I had to wait for it to arrive in the mail.  Not UPS or FedEx, so that it could be tracked, but plain old first-class US Postal Service mail.  It’s hard to plan a surprise when you don’t know when something is going to arrive or when it was shipped.  ARGH!!!!!  Eventually, it showed up in the mail.  My concern was that it was going to be shoved into the mailbox, bent, damaged and I would be bent with the mailman for damaging my bride’s prize.  Faith was out walking on a Saturday morning and when it arrived, the mailman brought it to the door with a smile.  When she got back, I told her “You’ve got mail” in my best imitation of AOL (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, YouTube it.)  She didn’t want to open it, but in my excitement, I told her that she NEEDED to open the envelope right then and there.  She eventually relented and then put it down on the end table.  She went back out to another obligation and then I went to work.  She didn’t know where her degree was going to be hung, but I already had a place set aside for it: right next to mine.

I measured the degree and off to the store to find a frame that was suitable for such an accomplishment.  I searched the store aisles to find one that would convey both the strength of the accomplishment and the journey that the degree represented.  Once I located the frame, I came home, placed the degree in the frame and then placed it where she could see it prior to being placed in its new home.  When she arrived, I could tell that she was pleased, but still didn’t know where it was going.  When I showed her its new home, a smile came over her face.  She contained her excitement but already she started thinking about her next goal: Master’s degree.  Guess I’m going to have to make room again.

-T

 

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