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For WGU Grad, the Lessons of Tragedy Led to Success

9/06/2013 10:28 am

By Bryan Lee
Graduate, B.S. in Business Management, WGU

Bryan Lee, B.S. in Business Management graduate

I did it. It’s time for you to do it, but why do it alone?

Yesterday, I received the official “Task Complete” email for my Capstone, and that wraps my bachelor’s degree—132 competency units in 23 months! My story is different from most, and I would like to portray a different perspective that I hope you will remember on a dark day when you can’t find motivation, or worse, you decide to quit.

On May 31, 2010, I lost my daughter to a pulmonary embolism at the age of 21. Two weeks prior, Kassie had graduated from a state school with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Journalism; Kassie never saw her diploma. At the age of 47, my world went from near bliss to absolute chaos. I had found success in life without a college education, but now everything that I thought was important was, in fact, not important.

The following months were very difficult as I tried to grieve while running a sizable air conditioning company. My body began to give way to stress, so I hired my replacement as CEO and retired.

“A career change,” I thought, and so I went shopping for a new career.

What I found was little interest in me, regardless of my accomplishments, unless of course I wanted to run another air conditioning company. It seems that there were many who looked better than me on paper. So in November 2011, I started my first term at WGU.

I started with great momentum—but then was dealt another blow in January 2012. I lost my 21-year-old son to depression. He too had been enrolled at the same school as Kassie. Karson had been struggling with the loss of his sister, and my wife and I had been unsuccessful in convincing him to seek counseling.

Then one day he reached out to a counselor at his school, and his mother and I were elated! Unfortunately, the help that he received was impersonal and dry: one among thousands, by appointment only.

Late that January, I called Ginny, my WGU mentor, to quit college. Ginny understood, but talked to me like a friend, gave me options, and left the door open for return. I wish Karson would have had someone at school who he could call at a moment’s notice—he might be alive today if he did.

Two weeks later I ran across this quote, which my daughter Kassie had published one year prior to her passing:

“Don’t let life pass you by.
Live with no regrets, love without limits,
and experience the greatest of your heart’s desires!”
– Kassie Lee

After reading that, I immediately called my mentor Ginny and, like a good friend, she was able to stop the disenrollment process. I went back to my school work, prayed often, cried every day, but also healed as I worked toward what I knew was needed to rebuild my life.

The last three years have taught me many things, and I’ll share a couple of them here:

First, your world today may not be your world tomorrow. It’s natural to make choices that serve today’s needs, but without foundation, those choices can quickly disappear as a life option. I did not choose college after graduating from high school in 1983, and I thought I had escaped the need to do so until May 31, 2010. Don’t make the same mistake that I made almost 30 years ago. Build a foundation for yourself that will persevere; only a few will escape having to compete in a competitive world, and chances are that you will not be one of them. Stay focused on what you know is right, bite your schoolwork off in small pieces, celebrate small victories, and do not quit!

Second, WGU’s mentoring approach to faculty and its WellConnect program are unique and special for an accredited college. Lean on your mentor, talk to him or her often, and use the program for your benefit. If your struggles go beyond what a mentor can do for you, give WellConnect a try. More than anything, don’t do it alone when you don’t have to. Put down your pride, and talk to someone who cares. Anybody who will listen will do. Just talk, and then talk some more! Depression is an illness that kills; do not fall victim to it.

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