Approximately 12,000 Sun Devils graduated this semester. I do not know all their names, but as a fellow student myself, I understand some of the pains they’ve endured to accomplish their objectives. Most are traditional students, but for nontraditional students like myself, these achievements are even more amazing.
I am fortunate to befriend some of our veteran students, mostly through my contact with them as current work study students, former work study students, or the small group that gathers frequently to enjoy the amenities of our center. Their stories, like many of our nontraditional peers, reflect broad career goals with a service focus, overcoming hurdles of various sorts, and a desire to swap stories our traditional peers don’t yet understand. We can talk candidly with each other about Iraq and Afghanistan, without our stories being awkward. We might talk about our kids or our partners’ child(ren). We also talk about the hours we work, or wish we didn’t work, when comparing ourselves to our traditional peers.
Although I mention some similarities, please know I don’t mean to infer we are a homogenous group. My work as a School Certifying Official reminds me constantly there is such great diversity within our student population. Similarities give us a common ground, but our differences make us wonderfully unique. We went down roads we planned and found some ruts we originally did not see and we’re constantly reconstructing our identities.
I am not among this semester’s graduating class. My big day will come next spring and I’m ok with the wait. It’s exciting to know I will be the first in my family to earn a Master’s degree. I hope my achievement inspires my siblings to accomplish the dreams they hold for themselves that may currently seem too big. Life is all about the baby steps.
Maintaining my 4.0 GPA this semester was harder than I imagined it would be; however, I have competition at home with my husband, a fellow ASU student, and my peers at work. It isn’t possible to “do it all.” However, I focused on less tasks and more intently at the tasks remaining on my “to do” list for the term.
There are things I couldn’t/wouldn’t alter given my status as a nontraditional student:
1. Working 40 hours a week (I’m the breadwinner in my family.)
2. Moving out of family housing (Family Housing was no longer suiting my family’s lifestyle.)
3. Family commitments (My in-laws graciously took our daughter many weekends for sleepovers so we could focus on homework. In return, we set up many family breakfasts with them so we could stay grounded with each other.)
However, my connections with my own family, who live out-of-state, have been minimal. I basically remind them I’m still living via sporadic non-vague Facebook status updates and a sprinkling of updated photos. I owe them more than one or two phone calls to make up for my conspicuous absence this term.
For all the great things that occurred this semester, this semester was a difficult one for some ASU families. Since I started doing email as one of my job responsibilities, I noticed we get student death notifications. I know universities are sometimes thought as large, impersonal institutions, but notifications like these touch me deeply.
I worked through activity reports on my first deployment and seeing the casualty numbers and deaths reported is something that has always stuck with me, particularly after Captain Brock’s death. During my email days this semester, I came across two student death notifications. They were both veterans. I had the responsibility to close our their information in VAOnce, the system we use to certify students for GI Bill benefits, and close out their PeopleSoft service indicator that tells us each was using some chapter of VA education benefits. For some reason, it’s always important to look at their ages before I complete this task. I don’t know if it’s my way of honoring their time on this earth; I am shocked whenever a student (veteran or nonveteran) is younger than me and almost relieved (for lack of a better term) when the person has lived longer.
I hope their families feel we treated them well while they attended ASU. I hope these students enjoyed their collegiate careers. I hope they enjoyed their lives in general, despite whatever bumps they encountered along the way.
I hope that our graduating class of 12,000 move forward and fulfill their dreams in a way these two veterans could not, because it’s important we remember life is for living. I have no doubt these two would have wished great things for their peers for spring commencement, those traditional students and nontraditional students, like themselves.