Commencement Exercises: A second chance at a new beginning

By Julie Z. Lee on November 12, 2007

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The typical college student is up by eight o'clock in the morning, in class by nine, works a few hours, studies, and even manages to squeeze in some hefty socializing before falling into bed sometime near midnight.

If only Colleen Daniels could have had it so easy. Two years ago she went back to school, and her life went from full to overflowing.

A single mother, Colleen was working 40-plus hours and raising two children. Between work and driving her kids to cheerleading practices, karate, and boy scouts, her life was hectic enough without adding the stress of midterms and papers. Returning to school was an inconceivable option. That is, until three years ago.

After 25 years of working in a dental office, Colleen thought she might be ready for a change. After looking into several possibilities she discovered that few businesses were willing to hire someone without a bachelor's degree.

"I realized that as long as I didn't finish college, where I was in my career was as far as I could go," says Colleen. "I wanted more from my life."

Determined to finish college, Colleen enrolled in a degree completion program that offered Thursday evening classes. It was a decision that ended up affecting her entire family. Tutoring from "Mom" wasn't as accessible as it had once been, since Colleen had her own studies to tend to; and on Thursdays, by the time class finished and Colleen picked up the kids from their father's house, the family usually didn't get home until 10:30.

"It was really hard," remembers Colleen. "I had to deal with the guilt of wondering whether or not I was spending enough time with my kids. Sometimes they would ask me why I was doing this, and I didn't know if they would ever realize what benefits there would be in the long run."

In time, everyone learned to adjust. The children gave their mother her quiet time and learned the importance of independence. In turn, Colleen surrendered her lunch breaks and several hours of sleep to studying in order to spend more time with her family. Twenty-one months later, in June of 1998, Colleen graduated from Pacific Union College with a Bachelor of Science degree.

"It was amazing," Colleen reminisces, still sounding a little overwhelmed. "It was just one of those surreal experiences in which you can't believe it's really happening."

These days, Colleen is busier than ever. Her daughter Meghan has started high school, her son P.J. is in his third year of karate, and resumes boasting a college degree need to be sent out. In some ways Colleen would rather have the 12 page papers to worry about than a new career. But if there's anyone who knows about having the courage to start over again, it's Colleen.

"It's funny being a single mom," Colleen says. "A lot of times you're told you can't possibly do this or that. But I've had to do the plumbing. I've learned how to do electrical work. And now I've graduated from college. I hope my kids are picking up on that."

From speaking with her children, it is obvious that the lessons of determination have not been lost. P.J., 12, heralds the importance of staying in school in order to receive a good education. Meghan, 14, is nervous about being interviewed at first, but perks up to praise her mother.

"My mom just kept with it and didn't quit when it was getting too tough," beams Meghan. "I'm proud that she was able to accomplish her goal."