My Bachelor’s Degree Journey

When I first left high school, I joined the Navy and fulfilled my lifelong dream of joining the military. My Dad was Navy and my sister and myself always vowed to do the same. From the time we were seven, we just knew it was what we wanted to do.

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While most head off to college with a new dorm room to call home, I headed to boot camp to serve our country in the most patriotic way I knew how.

I knew my parents couldn’t afford to pay for college. Not for me or for my twin sister; having twins makes tuition that much harder to come up with.  Nothing in our lives was ever given to us, we were some of the first to graduate high school in our family.  My mother never went past the 8th grade and my father is a high school graduate. Family members of mine barely completed high school or their GED. Let alone going to college, that was unheard of for my family.

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The running joke for my family was that my twin and I would end up like our mother, barefoot and pregnant by 14; you know, that good ol’ Kentucky stereotype that bears truth for some.

To stay in my hometown of Tompkinsville meant that I would probably never leave. I would never go to college and I most definitely would not have lived in Japan or seen the world.  I would probably have worked somewhere in town, I would have gotten married, popped out a handful of kids, and that would have been that.

But I wanted more for myself.

I wanted to see the world and the Navy could offer me that. I wanted to attend college someday and the Navy could offer me that. I wanted a career, a guaranteed salary, and I wanted to do more than my parents, and the Navy could offer me that. – I am not above my raising but I have bigger goals than that. I wanted to do more. Be more.

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My Navy recruiter, I saw him in our high school gymnasium. You know, the guests that come during lunch break, setting up tables and giving out goodies to discuss the military. Navy, Army, National Guard, each came bringing gifts and hopeful for young patriots like myself.

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I saw my recruiter and scheduled a meeting with my parents. He came to my house and lo and behold, that same day I signed up for the US Navy. His birthday the same as mine, we took as a good luck omen, and I was set to leave shortly after my 18th birthday – 13 days later to be exact.

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Instead of classes and homework, I was given training and uniforms. Instead of parties and GPA’s, I was practicing drills and visiting foreign countries. Instead of holidays at home, my holidays were spent at sea.  Instead of worrying about finals week, I was given the task of defending our country.

The Navy, that was all I ever wanted to do.

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Once I go to my ship, the USS Blue Ridge, I signed up and began taking a few real college classes onboard.  I took a few history courses and then put my degree on the back burner; I was living in a foreign country and visiting a dozen more, and taking classes in your free time is major dedication when you have a place like Japan at your fingertips. The degree would have to wait for now.

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After I left the Navy and moved back to Kentucky, I started classes at the University of Kentucky and began using my GI Bill. The GI Bill was my gift from the military – 4 free years of college tuition paid for with my sacrifice and service to our country.

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But, while I was at UK, I bullshitted and lollygagged while I was there. I was inattentive, distracted, unmotivated, and I eventually was given a warning and a semester off to get things under control. This was the first time I was kicked out of school.

Once I went back and began attending classes again, I changed my major every semester. First, PreVeteranary to Nursing. Then Nursing to Special Education.  While I liked each career path, none of them stuck and none of them got to me – if that makes sense.

I finished around 2 years worth of courses at the University of Kentucky, and eventually, I failed myself.  I wasted my time there and my GPA dropped with every course change, with every change of my major, and with all of the drama and chaos that one deals with in life. I was still not ready for this apparently, and I was officially dropped from classes.

I began waiting tables, bartending, even cooking for a spell. I did what I had to do while Philip finished his degree, and again, mine was put on the back burner. I was unsure if I would ever complete my degree, whatever that degree may be.

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We moved to Ohio and I immediately began beauty school. I attended Regency Beauty and attained my Cosmetology license, something I still enjoy doing when my hands do not ache.

I started working at Great Clips, cutting hair and using my license up until we sold our home. We were headed back to Kentucky, the promise land, and my Crohn’s disease began to take over my life.

Now, Kentucky. They require a few more months, 300 hours worth of classes, just to requalify to take the Cosmetology exam board and get licensed in the state.

The Week In Between - It Could Be Worse

Considering my Crohn’s disease diagnosis journey had to start all over with our move from OH to KY, my Cosmetology career got placed on the back burner as well.

With my Crohn’s disease diagnosis journey, I stay home a lot and I visit doctors a lot, the pain and suffering are no joke. Some see this as ‘lucky’ or something, but I’d take no pain over being home in pajamas any day.

Seeing that I would be working with this battle for a while, I wanted to start taking classes, online courses specifically, so that I could be productive and use my GI Bill to help cover the mortgage. I still had 2 years to use.

I began with Ashworth College and transferred to the University of Phoenix shortly after.

I started my own blog about my Crohn’s journey, writing about my personal experiences and patient perspective. I finally knew what I wanted to get my degree in. I had always enjoyed writing and communication, so I began the basic courses towards that career path.

Writing my this blog and maintaining all of my own social media, I was contacted through my Instagram and offered a writing job with IBD News.  I was even offered small jobs in IBD Research and Patient Education Advisory Committees.  I am even waiting for a trip to Nashville for a GI Advisory Board meeting.

I knew I was not going to attend or finish beauty school anytime soon, and since I pretty much live at the VA Hospital, I thought to myself that I should find a job there. Why not, right?

I had always been intrigued with phlebotomy, I am not squeamish and I talk about bodily fluids on the daily, so I looked into it.  In reality, I actually researched it for over a year! I wanted to make sure this was something that I wanted to do.

I would look into phlebotomy schools, looking up locations and places that would accept me for me, green hair and all, and I would get myself excited for the class. But, life would take over and I would just continue to take classes and see more doctors in my Crohn’s disease journey.

Writing for myself and IBD News about my own Crohn’s journey, my degree in communication and journalism was the perfect choice for me. I could write from home, from anywhere really, while I work doing Phlebotomy, win-win.

Now, over two years with Phoenix, my degree, and college journey is coming to an end.

Things may not go as planned, you may lose motivation, have a few bad days, life can take over and flip your world around. Sometimes we trip and fall and things go awry, but things work out in the end.

Today is the final day of classes for me, ending with Storytelling: A Multimedia Approach.

It may have taken me a decade with lots of twists and turns but I am finally done.

The final completion of my degree does not come lightheartedly and for me, this is a major milestone that was a long time coming. In hindsight, I wish I would have tried harder or finished sooner, but the time we cannot change.

Today is my last day with the University of Phoenix and I will have finally completed my Bachelor’s degree with a great GPA – if I do say so myself. One more assignment to complete today and that is it.

Thanks to all of you who have been a part of this struggle, this journey, this wandering and searching for something that I want and enjoy. It has taken a long time but now I am finished.

You are now looking at (or reading about) the newest degree owner – with a Bachelor of Science in Communication and a Certificate in Journalism.

Art Sanctuary - Thomas Branch & Mary Horsley
Art Sanctuary – Thomas Branch & Mary Horsley
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