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Karen lived among eight brothers and sisters in a home with very little food, water, and no electricity. For the first twenty years of her life, her parents and other adults alike repeatedly told her she would never be someone or accomplish anything substantial. She believed that her circumstances would never change and that she had to live the life she was given.
There was no grand plan to attend college or to work in a career field she was passionate about. Karen had no idea what she was going to do with her life. When she got pregnant during her last year of high school, she took a few months off before completely dropping out due to the school’s poor day-care services. She chose to marry her boyfriend and had two more children.
Instead of continuing her education, Karen chose to work full-time. She held several jobs over the next seven years including cashier, casino restaurant hostess, and housekeeper. She worked whatever job would fit her schedule and allow her to still care for her children. For many years, Karen made just $20,000 a year to support her three children.
An education, it seemed, was not attainable. Karen couldn’t afford one, and didn’t even know about loans that were available to her. No one had ever mentioned it. She was completely shocked when she found out her sister earned her associates degree. Karen recalls asking her sister how on earth she went to college when they couldn’t afford it. When her sister told her she could get student loans, it changed the course of her life.
“One of my aunts was a teacher and she never even mentioned anything about loans for college,” Karen said. “I would have followed such a different life path had I known I could get help paying for school.”
Karen and her husband separated on and off over the course of their seven-year marriage after her husband developed a drug addiction. After trying over and over again to help him overcome the addiction, she grew tired of it and did not want her children to grow up with that influence.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was gaining the courage to take my kids out of that situation and their home,” she said. When she decided to leave her children’s father in 1998, Karen says her sister saved her life and picked her and the kids up in Arizona, and drove them to Colorado to live with her family for a little while. That selfless act meant the world to her.
Karen struggled with being a single parent, but over the 10 years that Karen was raising her kids on her own, she always put her kids needs first.
In 2001, Karen’s future brightened after she was hired by Community Development Institute Head Start as a Fiscal Specialist for the Head Start program. She earned her associates degree from a local junior college in Aurora, Colorado in 2009 and with it came a big promotion to the position of Staff Accountant. During that time, she also met a great man and remarried.
For many years Karen had believed that she would never be successful and that earning a bachelor’s degree was unattainable, but Karen wanted to show others that good things can happen when you don’t give up.
A friend recommended she look into WGU and Karen was intrigued by its innovative learning model. She says she was nervous to complete online courses because it was unfamiliar territory, but WGU’s many resources gave her confidence to succeed. Karen celebrated the completion of her B.S. Accounting degree program at WGU’s 2016 Summer Commencement in Salt Lake City and became the first in her family to earn a bachelor level college degree.
For Karen, earning a bachelor’s degree has meant more responsibility at work and greater job security. In her current role, she supports underprivileged children and families through preschool education and medical care nationwide. “I do my work with pride and love because I do not want another child to feel like their circumstances determine whether they’ll be successful or not,” she says.
What Karen once thought was not possible was achieved because of her “never-give-up” attitude. She has worked hard to instill that same attitude in her children and always tries to be a force of positivity for others. Karen has been with the same company for 15 years now, and feels that where she is has always happily been where she is meant to be.
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