Juwan was always a fan of the University of Michigan football team. A DIE HARD FAN! I decided to enroll at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I attended classes part time and usually took the summer months off because my plans were not clear. I entered into their School of Business trying to maneuver the various courses that really didn't interest me.
When I found out that I was pregnant I was enrolled in 3 classes. I had a new goal to focus on immediately. After the confirmation of Mylahs diagnosis, my drive changed. I wasn't interested in school anymore. My focus was not on my classes, especially the one that wasn't really interesting. I failed it and passed the other 2. The goal of obtaining my degree before my sister wasn't fulfilled and she was prepping for her graduation as we prepared to welcome Mylah into our world.
I took the semester off after Mylah's birth and once we came home with her I once again felt a purpose to continue with my education. I decided to re-enroll for summer classes. As we prayed on what heart surgery we would decide on for Mylah, I was also trying to focus on passing my classes.
As Mylah was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery and her unplanned tracheotomy, some days I would leave the hospital the night before to go home so I could go to work and then go to class afterwards and my younger sister the graduate, would stay with her niece in Ann Arbor.
Many nights during those rides home it was the thought of Mylah's uncertain future that gave me strength and reminded me of what the ultimate goal was; a better life for her. After we brought Mylah home from Mott Hospital in October 2012, I knew that I needed to speed up the process. I could no longer move at the snails pace that had gotten me to where I was. I needed to suck it up, buckle down and take as many classes as I could at a time in order to hurry up and finish; no matter the sacrifice. I wasn't getting any younger and I needed to be able to free up my time to spend with my daughter. I met with my counselor to get a final plan together and once again I had a new goal.
After discussing my plans with Juwan I enrolled in classes full time and decided that I would not take any breaks, I needed to be done in a year so I had to attend every semester including summer. It was hard and when you are a procrastinator it makes things even more difficult, but I tried to convince myself that I work good under pressure. Every semester, during finals I would find myself burning the midnight oil trying to finish a paper or study 4-5 chapters for a deadline or test that was usually 12 hours away. I had to adjust my schedule at work in order to be able to attend the classes that I needed in order for this 1 year plan to work.
I found myself also being put in situations where I could share Mylah's story. Each time there was an assignment or presentation, I found a way to incorporate Mylah into it. Not only was I being educated, I was also advocating for Mylah and educating about Trisomy 18 along the way. Sometimes I wasn't sure of how our story would be received, but once my marketing professor, assured me that a product idea I presented at our mock Shark Tank presentation was a great idea, I knew that I needed to continue sharing our story whenever I could.
Ever been so close to something you could feel it? taste it? smell it?? That's how I felt earlier this year. I had one of my last meetings with my counselors last fall. We outlined all the classes I needed to take and she wrote on my goal sheet "graduation Dec 2014".... Graduation? "wow" I thought.
I never thought I would see those words. Now it was basically etched in stone, I just needed to deliver on my end of the bargain.
Then Mylah had a seizure one night in April 2014, a week before finals, just days before I was scheduled to present in class along with 3 others. My team assured me that I would be ok and that they would handle things for me and even talked to my professor and they all agreed that I should remain at the hospital with Mylah and I would get the group grade.... We got an A. I never used Mylah or any of her medical issues as an excuse to get out of something and I never expected and/or wanted anyone to feel sorry for me because of what I might have been going through. My teammate(s) assured me that what they were doing for me was what they would expect anyone to do, have compassion and understanding. I was brought to tears by what they did for me.
I emailed my counselor at least once every 2 months to just have confirmation that I was on the right track and that there were no surprises. Then I received a email this summer that said I could apply to graduate! I did and for the next few weeks I would receive other communications and instructions regarding graduation, cap & gown, degree frames, graduation fair all the things that lead up to the walk across the stage.
I downloaded an app for graduation countdown on my phone as I entered my last semester of classes. Almost every week I would text the number of days til graduation to my classmate followed my some type of inspirational sentence; "we are almost there", "getting closer", "1 week left".
I ordered 2 dresses, tried to decide on whether I would order a few announcements or pictures for myself for memories sake because for months I had been operating in secrecy. I was excited but upset, ashamed, and depressed that I was completing undergraduate studies at the age of 34. I felt like a failure even though this was an accomplishment. I couldn't really be proud of myself. I had a number of people rooting for me and encouraging me, but I couldn't do the same.... With each positive encouragement from a friend or family member, there was always the bad girl on my shoulder putting me down with something negative. "You're 34 and just getting your Bachelors degree", "It took you so long to do what others do in 4 years", "You are 34, come on there's really nothing to celebrate", "People your age have their Masters degree". I felt like a failure for being the oldest child, but the last to get my degree. I was supposed to be the example for the other 2. They were supposed to follow in my footsteps. I was supposed to be someone who they could look up to & say "I want to be like my big sister".
When I tried on my cap Wednesday night, I looked in the bathroom mirror and smiled. I made it. Further than I ever thought possible. I would be getting a degree with my name on it to display however I saw fit. I crossed the tassel, once, twice...a third time. I had not seen myself in a cap since June 1998. It looked good on me. I liked the person I saw in the mirror. She had been through so much in the years since she was last in a cap and gown; did many things that she wasn't proud of, made lots of foolish mistakes, cried a lot of tears, felt a nice amount of pain but in the end she could smile. She made some great decisions, accomplished things she deserved to be proud of, stood in the face of adversity and faced it head on, fought a lot of fights, cried many tears of joy and now she was here.....
I saw the maize & blue curtains.... the bright lights... the smiles on the faces of mothers, fathers, daughters, sisters, & grandparents. Each person full of excitement. We all traveled a journey seperately and we had arrived at our final destination. It was our moment, this was our day. "You can be happy, you deserve to be proud, some people never make it this far and you did it.... it doesn't matter how long it took you"... YOU DID IT!
Some people in their congratulatory expressions often say "Girl, I don't know how you did it"....
Faith, Family, & Friends........
That's how I did it.... I couldn't have made it alone.....