Obstacles Galore: Clearing the Path to Graduation

By Carla Lee
Graduation Coordinator, Secondary Education, Teachers College

By Carla Lee Graduation Coordinator, Secondary Education, Teachers College

At WGU, each student is assigned a personal faculty member to work with them as a mentor throughout their time at WGU. Additionally, each course has its own course mentors, subject-matter experts who are available to help students get through course material. Advice from your mentors is invaluable as you make your way through your online degree program. But we also want you to benefit from the wisdom of mentors not necessarily assigned to you, so occasionally, The Night Owl features advice from WGU mentors in colleges throughout the university.

I came to WGU five years ago with a background in teaching, counseling, and life coaching. I am the Secondary Ed Graduation Coordinator in WGU's online Teachers College. By my title, you might think I arrange the flowers and select the colors for the commencement ceremony, but someone else takes care of those important details.

My job is to join mentors in helping students remove barriers to graduation. Adult students have challenges that younger students normally do not. The demands of families, full-time jobs, and the inevitable life challenges that arise including marriages, babies, job loss, and illness are just a few.

There are obstacles galore.

I often say that getting a degree when you're an adult is like defying gravity. Over the past 12 months alone, WGU has witnessed 10,820 students defying gravity to earn their degrees.

Challenging? YES. Impossible? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

We're here to help.

I often speak with students who are tired, disheartened, and ready to give up. They seem relieved when I tell them they are one among many who feel just as they do. Sometimes this journey can feel like the last mile of a marathon.

Knowing this, WGU has gathered a host of resources to support students in overcoming these life challenges. They include Course Mentors and their crash courses, WellConnect Counseling Services, the Center for Writing Excellence, the Student Success Center, the Student Support Center, and scholarship assistance. Your mentor can refer you to any of these WGU resources. We're here to help. Of course, you can do this alone, but I'll bet it will take longer.

Everyone stumbles, but not everyone gets up.

Here are a few of my favorite tips:

  1. MANAGE YOUR THOUGHTS. You'll likely recall the children's story "The Little Engine That Could." It's a classic because it's true—or, at least, its message is. The process works in the opposite way too. If we tell ourselves, "I don't think I can do this. This is too hard; I don't think I can," pretty soon, "I can't, I can't, I can't" becomes the reality. The one thing that's true of all graduates is THEY NEVER GAVE UP!
  2. RECALL YOUR VISION. There are those who say that believing is seeing, not the other way around. Your vision is intended to fuel you when the journey gets rough. See yourself as a graduate. Imagine how it will feel as you take your seat at commencement or get your diploma in the mail. See it; feel the excitement, as though it were happening right now.
  3. RESET YOUR GOALS. Make them manageable. I'm a fan of setting smaller, attainable goals and then working to exceed them rather than setting big goals and failing. Do it any way it works for you. Just do it.
  4. WHAT ABOUT YOUR STUDY SCHEDULE? If you haven't created a clear study schedule recently, weeks can slip away without noticeable progress. If you say you'll study from 6-10 p.m Monday through Friday and Monday passes with no studying, you know you're already behind. Hold yourself accountable and, even better, ask someone you trust to help you do that by declaring your study schedule.
  5. BEGIN AGAIN. This is one of my personal favorites. Everyone stumbles, but not everyone gets back up. Don't judge yourself or think critical thoughts; just begin again without drama. Do whatever it takes to restart. Getting started is often the hardest.
  6. EXAMINE YOUR PRIORITIES and how you use your time. There are countless things that eat your time with little payoff. Of course you deserve some down time, but each time you engage in a time-waster, you delay graduation. Ask yourself, "What am I willing to give up to get my degree?" It might even be something important like a few of your child's soccer games. Remember, these sacrifices are temporary. If you can delay gratification for just a while longer, think of the selfie you'll post on Facebook from the WGU commencement ceremony!
  7. REWARD YOURSELF. Celebrate (seemingly) small successes. One student involves the entire family. Each time he passes an assessment they do something special. "Dad, don't you have studying to do?" they ask. They know that as soon as he passes an assessment they'll play miniature golf.
  8. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS—at least for a while. Vacuum less; cook less; order healthy take-out a few times per week; let the kids watch a little more TV than you'd like; delegate. You can always pay someone back for their extra help later, if necessary, when you have more time.

Supportive Loved Ones

I just returned from Salt Lake City after attending our week of academic meetings and commencement. As I watched the graduates file into commencement, walking deliberately to the slow pace of "Pomp and Circumstance," I could feel the swell of emotion arise as I remembered my own commencement. Just as I did years ago, I watched the proud faces of the graduates, some in tears, scanning the crowd for familiar faces. We all stood proudly, honoring the journey of our graduates who have worked so hard to claim this moment.

Throughout the year, WGU faculty and staff gather to celebrate our graduates. Included in the celebration is the alumni mixer held the night before commencement. The excitement in the air is palpable as WGU's faculty mentors meet—usually for the first time—students they have worked with for weeks, months, and years.

What I noticed most this time was not only the joy on the faces of the graduates, but also the proud smiles of family members and friends who walked beside them. Graduate after graduate turned toward their loved one and declared, "I would never have made it without her support," or, "He believed in me." Family support is so very important.

Double Duty

Earning your degree is engaging in a dual curriculum. One involves the standard path with each course of study. The other is a more personal curriculum that involves learning how to manage yourself and any thoughts that tell you anything other than "I can do this!" We know how to support you if you'll let us, and we're good at it. The graduates I speak with at commencement often say they have emerged a more capable, confident, and self-directed person. The bonus is that they also have a WGU diploma to show for it.

Share in the celebration: Take a little break and watch the 2014 Summer Commencement video. And then, take that renewed inspiration and dive back into making your dreams a reality!

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