THE BLOG

Graduating College As a Mother

06/11/2015 05:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2016
Krystal Cleaver

Going to college was something I always wanted to do. Even from a young age, the idea of doing nothing but focusing on growing my intellect, on a beautiful campus with aged mahogany library shelves lined with the classics felt right to me. I loved the idea of having the opportunity to do nothing but have to study, expand my worldview and learn about topics I would have never sought after left to my own devices. It's not that I think a college education is the path for everyone or that it is necessary for success, because I do not believe that at all. But for me, it was something I wanted to do.

Because no one in my family had graduated college before and even though it felt right to me, it was also a bit of a dream to go. I wasn't sure it could become a reality. My adolescence was a difficult time. I spent my years struggling in high school with the sudden death of my father and the personal and family problems that ensued. These problems certainly found a way to manifest themselves in my grades... and it became pretty clear that I wouldn't be able to go to college (at least then).

I also lived in a part of the country where university acceptance was competitive and even some acquaintances of mine graduating in the top percentiles of my class were being rejected from some schools. It was a town with what seemed to feel like limited opportunities for me, but also a competitive experience with college acceptance and attendance. It seems strange that these two dynamics coexisted.

In my desperate attempt to feel somewhat on a path and in charge of my own life, I moved in with my grandparents and enrolled in a community college near them. Bored, still carrying some emotional weight of my childhood and not really engaging with anything substantially important, I ended up getting poor grades. After a year there, I moved to a really small town and attended a different community college, hoping that a change of scenery would be therapeutic and helpful.... still nothing. Turns out that if your emotional life isn't going that well, it is hard to go to school and get good grades. Shocking, I know.

After a year there with failing grades, and I knew this was not OK. What am I doing with my life? I thought. Why live here if there is limited opportunity for economic and educational development for myself and emotional baggage from family disarray? Why live here if more than anything, I am not happy? If you know me at all, you will know I do not do something half-way. These were all signs that I was not OK.

I bought a one-way ticket to Denver, Colorado with a departure date in two weeks.

I didn't know anyone. I didn't have a job.

Sometimes, you have to trust your gut. No more flunking out of community college. No more wasted years living a life that wasn't fulfilling and was in fact, upsetting me. I deserved better and I needed to go out and get it myself. Taking an active role in my life was my job.

My move to Colorado was the best decision I ever made for myself. A few years of working as a nanny for some great families and as a waitress for a busy restaurant, and also after having met the love of my life, I felt ready to re-enroll in college. My life was stable, finances were predictable and I was ready to engage in a part of my life that would I thought help me pursue my passions.

And I loved it! My fiancé and I were studying at University of Colorado-Denver. It felt so great to be on campus with him between classes, grabbing some lunch and a cup of coffee. Studying for finals at the library and enjoying the freedom and opportunities college life afforded us.

Then, I became married and pregnant my junior year.

My pregnancy was a little harder than anticipated, so I had to un-enroll from courses and wait to take my next semester until after my daughter was born. This was all OK with me and I knew it was right because it was my choice..

What I didn't realize was when I returned to university being a mother.... my worldview changed. I suddenly felt more protective of my time. I had to limit myself to the amount of hours I dedicated to each subject. My breasts would swell with milk during my hours away from her and my pump couldn't relieve me and it would make me sad. I would get photos of her during the day from my amazing in-laws, her loving grandparents, and I would feel sad for missing her.

I suddenly didn't want to spend all of my time learning and learning. I wanted to be home with my baby, or at least with my baby. She is who I wanted to be studying. I would miss her during class so much and then at night would feel guilty when I had to study. I blazed through my last semesters with a focus so strong on graduating that I graduated almost exactly on her first birthday.

I didn't graduate with honors or with any distinctions or cum laude or anything. But, I graduated! I did it. I did something that many people did not believe I could do. The path to my dream shifted several times, and at times it seemed unattainable and unpredictable. I can truthfully say to my children now that I did something that was hard for me and took a lot of strength because I was so scared of it. I failed many times before I succeeded, and I did it. That is my definition of success.

This is what it felt like to graduate college as a mother.