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WGU Graduate Speaker, Tracy Anderson, Winter 2014
WGU Graduate Speaker, Tracy Anderson, Winter 2014
Western Governors University
<p>Tracy Anderson, of Petersburg, Virginia, was a para-educator for more than 16 years before earning her bachelor's degree in special education from Western Governors University. She had always planned to go to college but life soon got in the way and her dream was put on hold. Several years later, as a single mother and caretaker for three elderly family members, she decided to return to school to fulfill her dream. She chose WGU because it allowed her to use her work experience in her schoolwork. Three days after graduating from WGU Tracy was hired as an eighth-grade special education teacher. She is continuing her education at WGU and started the Master's in Learning and Technology program this January. Tracy shared her story as a graduate speaker at WGU's Winter 2014 Commencement at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center on February 8, 2014.</p> <p>Tracy Anderson earned her Bachelor of Arts, Special Education degree.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall: We'll now be pleased to hear from four of our graduates. I must say I wish we had time to hear from each of you for we know that each of you have a unique personal story of your journey to this day. But we'll have to have four represent you. We will hear first from Tracy Anderson from Petersburg, Virginia, who has earned a bachelor's degree in special education. She will be followed by Marvin Perkins from Santa Clarita, California, who has earned a bachelor's degree in business management. He will be followed by Merit Sowards from Bradenton, Florida, who has earned a bachelor's degree in health informatics. And our concluding graduate speaker will be Crystal Howard, from Zuni, New Mexico, who has earned a master's degree in nursing, leadership and management. Tracy? [Applause]</p> <p>Tracy Anderson: Greetings distinguished panel, faculty, guests, and my fellow alumni. Please allow me first to give honor to God for His unmerited favor. I beg your indulgence for a few minutes as I share with you my most memorable experiences on my journey with Western Governors University.</p> <p>Langston Hughes once posed this question, "What happens to a dreams deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load or does it explode?"</p> <p>College was always the plan for my future. The idea of having at least one degree by the age I was 22 was as certain for me as my name and birthday. So I assumed. As I learned 21 years later, life does not come scripted and even the best laid plans are vulnerable to life's unpredictable grueling pressing demands. Nonetheless a dream deferred did not mean a dream denied. And years later, I finally decided to pursue a college degree to follow my insatiable passion for teaching. I was 38 years old.</p> <p>My age, though far from 22, was of little consequence for me. The obstacles and challenges I faced were in my life decision to become a single mother of one. Then age 9 years of age. A full-time special education paraprofessional for over 16 years. And the live-in caregiver for three senior family members, an aunt, 60, with a form of Lupus, my mother, age 73 with beginning Alzheimer's, and a great-aunt, age 101, with acute arthritis. Adding schoolwork to this already frenzied schedule appeared to family and friends, and myself admittedly, a suicide mission. [Laughter] However, with faith the size of a mustard seed and free time of equal size, I enrolled in Western Governors University to begin the journey. [Applause]</p> <p>Many were the times I contemplated whether now was the right time to take on such an endeavor. I worried that either my daughter, seniors, or studies would meet neglect. Viewing my life from the outside, things may have looked typical. However, with an almost daily routine of being up by 4:45 each morning, taking care of things needed by my seniors while I was at work, getting my daughter to school, and working my primary job until 3:00, and my second job until 6:00. Continuing on to get dinner prepared and served before 7:00. Three days out of most weeks working a third job from home, making sure my daughter had her homework done and recapping her day with her. Racing the clock, I prepared my clothes for work and washed any emergency loads of clothes for my seniors, made sure everyone had taken their medications for the day and finally tidying up anything that just could not wait until the weekend.</p> <p>The word typical only applies to my life as a student, if it is synonymous with exhausting. [Laughter] Schoolwork could not be neglected and having a mentor assigned by WGU to keep me focused on tasks and direct me to provided resources was my saving grace. Mentors are our connectors and they serve in the same capacity as advisors at a traditional university without the struggle of competing for their time during limited office hours. WGU mentors contact you personally to focus only on you. My mentor was my lifeline. With my schedule having someone to focus on me was a nice change of pace. So when I faced the unusual experience of being assigned a new mentor, it was a change that worried me to the point of considering dropping out all together.</p> <p>But my new mentor, [Inaudible] listened quietly and patiently to my speech of woe, and then, just as quietly and patiently she talked some sense into me. [Laughter] "Well, Tracy, you have more to give than you give yourself credit for," she told me. "You are more than halfway there and I am willing to see you through, but nothing I say is going to mean anything if you don't believe in your abilities."</p> <p>That 15-minute conversation with K.T. was the most supportive and encouraging I had heard in over 20 years. I emailed her the next morning to let her know I decided to continue in the teachers' college. She promptly called me and began to outline the course of action we would follow for the next few years to get me to my goal. That day and every conversation after, K.T. was my cheerleader, guide on the side, voice of reason, and if the needle rose, a kick in the pants. [Laughter] She knew my family demands and helped me organize my daily schedule to get tasks completed. K.T. was the push I needed to understand that I could accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish.</p> <p>The curriculum at WGU was challenging and occasionally required me to extend myself past my preferred bedtime and even watch the sun signal the moon to take rest. In those times, my daughter, [Inaudible], became my study partner as well as comedic relief. She seemed to have a cornucopia of "not until your homework is finished" jokes. [Laughter] Along with Lillian's support was also the support of a dear friend, [Inaudible], who is of the strong opinion that when it comes to education, the words cannot and quit are nonexistent. This, my triad of support, and the grace of God were my sources of strength.</p> <p>Today, Lillian is an intelligent, happy 14 year old. My seniors thrived and are now ages 65, 80, and she did see her 107th birthday. I continue to work in the same school district of 21 years, however, not as a paraprofessional, but as a licensed, highly qualified special education teacher. [Applause]</p> <p>Through my educational journey at Western Governors University I now know what happens to a dream deferred. It's nurtured, cultivated, and manifested into a reality. Thank you and congratulations.</p> <p>[Applause]</p>
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