Project Graduation

By: Bianca Strzalkowski, Founder of the Military Spouse Education Initiative

“You will face many defeats in your life, but never let yourself be defeated.” -Maya Angelou

The days of setting the alarm clocks are quickly approaching. Trying to get back into the groove of a school schedule can be downright painful, but preparing an entire household of varying ages to get school ready requires organization, attention, and coffee….lots of coffee. A decade ago I set a goal for myself, I would finish college before my oldest starts. I refused to accept that it would take so long that both Alex and myself would be looking at college catalogs for enrollment. Well, that deadline passed, and now I find myself filling out financial aid paperwork for mother AND son.

Whether your children are starting to look at colleges or are climbing the K-12 ladder, organization is key to getting ahead when school is in session. Early mornings and late nights can be expected; you may even feel defeated at times of how you will get everything done. As Sheila Casey, Army wife of 41 years, pointed out at the Inaugural Spouse Summit: “everything cannot be a priority.” As you plan out your registration for your own semester, forecast what other responsibilities you may have. Is there an impending deployment on the horizon? Will your kids have extracurricular activities? Does one child require more one on one studying with you? Once you have a full picture of what you are going to be dealing with, create a plan and a schedule.

The Art of Saying No

For some people, like myself, saying no hurts; you prefer to exhaust yourself with commitments over feeling like you are letting someone down. I am revealing a little known secret: people will be less upset with you if you are upfront with them. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and do not say yes when you should really be saying no. Keep your bucket filled with must haves, not nice to haves.

Manage Your Time Efficiently

My household carves out a block of time each night where, as a family, we have study time together. We unplug from all distractions, and the kids and I do our homework together. Although it can be hectic at times when I am trying to study and assist them, it shows them that mom is just as committed to learning as they are.

Create a Calendar

The number one tip from fellow military spouses is to utilize a calendar to keep yourself on task. Whether you do it electronically or manually, sit down at the start of each month or week and give yourself a full picture of what to expect. Mark down when key assignments are due, sports practices, doctors’ appointments, etc; do not forget to block off some “me” time. If you do not account for fun or relaxation you will hit the burnout point early on in the semester.

Focus on Why You Are Doing This

Life’s responsibilities can become downright overwhelming. There have been many times when I have felt discouraged and questioned how I would get it all done, but when I reminded myself that my education was an important part of my self- worth it was easier to get through those study sessions in the wee hours of the night. One suggestion to motivate yourself is to keep reminders of school within your view. Anita Singh, Marine wife and recent Graduate of the University of Southern California offers up a great suggestion of how she stayed connected to school when she was at home: “Post a picture of your school’s commencement ceremony or something that reminds you of your school in your study area. I hung a USC banner above my desk! This is a great way to stay inspired and to remember what you are working towards!”

As you approach the upcoming academic year, you may have wildly successful days and others when nothing goes the way you planned it. Let yourself off the hook. Maybe the laundry won’t get done that day or maybe a last minute pizza order will have to suffice for dinner, it is okay. You can only master so many things at one time and the commitment to conquer your graduation day is one you will be proud of. Enjoy the beautiful chaos of wearing the parent and student hat, one day you just may be walking across that stage in your own cap and gown.

‘Walking the Stage with My Son;’ Air Force wife Patricia Bennett’s story:

After my husband retired from the Air Force in 2009 after 26 years, we moved to San Antonio, Texas. It took a little time to get settle in to a life that didn’t involve the military on a daily basis. I had one son in high school, one in middle school, one getting ready to start college and our oldest in his senior year in college. Once our youngest son entered high school, I made the decision with the support of my family to go back to college in the spring of 2010. To say the least, I was nervous and scared of going back to school. I got through the initial fright after realizing I wasn’t the only older adult going to college. I took on average 12 credit hours a semester, as I was also a volunteer bowling coach for Brennan High School, which my son bowled on. Now through the months that followed, there were times when I just didn’t think that I could make it. However, the support of my husband telling me that I could accomplish anything as long as I put my mind to it, helped me to continue on. I finally accomplished one goal and graduated with my associate’s degree in criminal justice in May 2013. I was also able to walk across the stage with my son, Andrew, who graduated that same night. Now I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree with Texas A & M here is San Antonio.

Tips that Patricia used to get to graduation day:

  1. Never too old to pursue your goals: I use to think the time for me to pursue my education had passed by, but I saw myself as having more experience and the maturity to study and do my homework when assigned.
  2. Stay committed: It takes discipline to be able to do loads of homework. I didn’t procrastinate!
  3. It is okay to rely on others: Family support helped me through the rough days when things got to be overwhelming. Their words of encouragement kept me going

The Resource

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