I had to keep telling myself that it was ok to feel proud, that it wasn't "just an Associate's".
I joined the Army at 17 and left the summer after High School, it was how I planned on paying for my college education so that my parents wouldn't have to incur the costs and because I never wanted the debt college came with it for myself either. That plan didn't work out quite as expected. When I came home I entered into an emotionally abusive relationship where my education wasn't encouraged nor was it made a priority. I changed my major many times throughout the years, from early childhood education to business administration and lastly to hotel and restaurant management.
Not so long after I began to work at Verizon, they offered lucrative pay, great benefits and even tuition reimbursement but even then, continuing my education was placed on the back burner since I was earning just as much, if not more than college educated individuals. I took pride in my job and it's pay, I felt more accomplished with it than if I had attained an actual degree. A few years after working there I got a became a wife, stepmother, blogger and new mom — I had baby number 1, Naliya. Life became complicated, some semesters I didn't qualify for financial aid, there were milestones, changes, accomplishments, failures and defeat; you know life happened.
I opened and closed a fashion jewelry store, found another well paying job, got laid off and then had baby number 2, Aarlen. In between it all I took classes on and off at Bloomfield College, Passaic County College as well as Bergen Community College and Phoenix University. I had a total of 81 credits between the military, college and CLEP. Because I had so many credits for many different majors taking up general studies made the most sense in order to attain my associates degree as soon as possible.
Last year a friend of mine who has three children under 6 years old was going through a divorce and even with all that she had going on, she told me she would be starting her doctorate program soon to obtain her PHD. I literally said WTF in my head and told myself in that moment that if with all she had going on she could go for a PHD the least I could do for myself was finish the 3 classes I had left for my associates degree in general studies. For the longest time I had put it off because of finances, I refused to incur college debt. But somehow I guess continuing my education was now part of God's plan for my life. When I spoke to my reentry counselor she informed me that as a veteran I qualified for military benefits, something I never knew even though I was discharged back in 2003. All these years a big part of the reason I never pursued my education was because finances and here I was eligible for benefits this whole time and no one had ever made me aware.
Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity and decided with the help of God and my family this was my year to finish my associate's degree. Today while in the second week of my second class for my bachelor's degree I attended the commencement ceremony for that associate's degree! It was nice, a surreal experience, but honestly nothing beat getting that the degree in the mail last week. After years of feeling like a failure or like I did not measure up to those who hold degrees I am finally at peace with myself. I would always say "no I didn't go to college" but actually I did! I had 81 credits! and then obtained another 21 at Phoenix University online.
So maybe up until today I did not have a degree but that did not mean I was not college educated and it did not make me any less worthy or any less intelligent. Today as I sat in that commencement ceremony and watched as people received their bachelor's, master's and doctorate I had to tell myself it is ok to feel proud also, it's not just an associate's degree. It's a degree you fought for and kept going after for the past 13 years, it's the degree you're getting before your bachelor's and it is the degree you earned and deserve! It's never too late to go after your degree if that is something you desire, somehow someway The Lord will make it happen.
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I'M ALICIA GIBBS
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