One of Tara Hutchison’s most important goals in life was to graduate from college.
She started taking college classes right out of high school and expected to earn her bachelor’s degree, begin a career and eventually start a family.
Although she had the best of intentions, life, like it so often does, had different plans. Hutchison got married, had children and school was put on the back burner.
For nearly 20 years, Hutchison attended school sporadically, taking a class here and there to stay up with academic changes and keep her dream relevant.
Every time she tried to get back on track, it was one step forward and two steps back. As a working adult with a very active family life, Hutchison found it extremely difficult to finish what she started.
“Both of my kids were very active in school, church and sports. However, I was transitioning more into a leadership role, advancing in social services from a case manager up to a trainer and, finally, a supervisor,” Hutchison said. “It was vital to me during those years that I devote any and all attention to my family’s needs, as well as to my professional growth. For this reason, my goals of obtaining my degree took a backseat to the other needs of my life.”
"Going back to school isn’t predicated by one’s age or open schedule, but rather their desire to fulfill their dreams."
Once her children were older, more independent and had lives of their own, Hutchison was able to start a new chapter in life where she could put the focus back on herself.
Finally finding herself in a position to put school on the front burner, she discovered the College of Liberal Studies (now the College of Professional and Continuing Studies). The online bachelor of arts in liberal studies program was just the environment she needed to achieve her dream of graduating.
“Balancing a home life, a career and school full time requires a great deal of structure and organization, while simultaneously creating a void in the areas that need your attention,” she said. “I was blessed to have an incredibly supportive family that worked tirelessly to help me fill these voids.”
Hutchison said she was able to study in the evenings and write papers at lunch. She listened to her professors’ recorded lectures during her breaks. Thanks to her family, she was able to maximize her time in such a way that all areas of her life were taken care of. She said that made all the difference in helping her realize her goals.
“There were weekends I’d be working on a report, sequestered in the office typing away, oblivious to the world around me,” she said. “Those weekends, my husband and our kids would pick up the slack created by my absence. They would take care of the home and make sure everything was running smoothly so I could focus on my papers.”
Hutchison excelled in her studies, making the Dean’s List and the President’s Honor Roll every semester she was enrolled. With the additional honor of graduating with High Distinction, it’s easy to see why she was chosen to receive the Outstanding Senior award.
She said she’s very proud of all of her accomplishments, but being chosen Outstanding Senior is something she’ll always treasure.
“The moment I received the phone call telling me I had been chosen for this award was one of the single greatest moments I’ve experienced,” she said. “I have been honored to attend college alongside bright, intelligent peers who inspired me. It was amazing to me that, out of these bright individuals, I had been chosen. I am still amazed.”
She said she would never have applied for the award if it hadn’t been for her family’s encouragement.
“I have been blessed to have an incredibly supportive family that has encouraged and supported me in every aspect of my life,” she said. “When my husband heard about this opportunity, he encouraged me to apply for it to show others that you can achieve your goals of academic success even after years away from school and with all the responsibilities of adult life.”
Hutchison said she hopes her success encourages and inspires others to realize their dreams, no matter their age or circumstances. She believes age is relative, and the gray hair she seems to be in a constant battle with doesn’t have the power to determine whether she achieves her goals or not.
There are always challenges for working adults who choose to go back to school, she said. The key to success is trying different techniques and creating different schedules until one works.
“Only I have the ability to either fail or succeed,” she said. “Our lives are filled with places to go, people to see and things to do. Going back to school to obtain your degree is simply a shifting of priorities. To me, going back to school isn’t predicated by one’s age or open schedule, but rather their desire to fulfill their dreams.”