Tiffany Abramson was one of the student speakers at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration for spring semester. Here are the remarks she shared.
I was having a conversation with a co-worker a few years ago when, somehow, we got on the topic of life. Sensing my unhappiness with where life had taken me thus far, she asked, “If you look back at your life 5 years from now, will you be proud of how far you’ve come or would you look back with regret?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. A seemingly innocuous question shook me to my core. If I were to fast forward my life 5 years, what would I be doing? Would I be happy? Would I look back and wish I had done something different? The answer was yes. It was in that moment that I realized it was time for me to make a change.
My name is Tiffany Abramson, and I am proud to stand before you now as a 2019 graduate of Penn State.
How many of you had a similar situation that caused you to evaluate your 5-year plan?
Up until that point, I had been playing passenger in my own life. Then, suddenly, I began to think about all of the things I could accomplish in five years. A glimmer of empowerment started to seep in with the thought of completing school. At that time, I had three small children. I was in an unhappy marriage, walking around with a lot of guilt, regret, and an honest yearning for something more. You see, never finishing college right after high school had been one of my biggest regrets. Yet there I was, reminded that I was capable of great things. What if I did go back to school and finish? Where could it take me? What could I do? It was as if a part of me that had been sleeping for many years was awakened, and a new curiosity and drive had taken over.
In the following weeks, I submitted my application, requested transcripts, talked to an adviser, and signed up for my first two classes — promising myself that this time around would be different.
Two classes turned into three, which turned into four, and before I knew it, I was juggling full-time work, full-time school, and three kiddos at home and navigating the uncharted territory of being a divorcee while redefining who I was.
As I am sure all of you have experienced, going to school while juggling other responsibilities is not without its trials. My kids got to the point where, each night after dinner, they would ask me if I had homework and would squeal with delight when I would say no. To them, that meant that mom could play another round of UNO or watch an episode of American Idol with them. They became used to the idea that when Sundays rolled around, I would have some sort of quiz, test, or assignment due and would often find things to occupy themselves while I would work. I will never forget the semester that I had an art class. They would get out their crayons and paints and create the art of the week right along with me. And there was a Sunday night that my girls played hairdresser on me while I wrote an entire paper. I ended up with two crooked ponytails that night, but they didn’t care. They were close to me and that’s all that mattered.
Then there was statistics class. That one class still haunts me to this day. For those of you who know my pain, it was the extra hours of tutoring, the multiple calls and emails to my professor asking for help — yeah, you all know what I’m talking about. In most of my classes, I earned an A, but in statistics, I had resigned myself to the fact that I only needed a C to pass. During my semester in that class, not only did I get engaged, but my fiancé and I bought and moved into a house, and I also received a work promotion to support the president of Penn State Hershey Medical Center. No pressure, right? When I called my professor, Dr. Tate, on the verge of tears, to explain what was going on in my life and why I was struggling with the class, she empathized with me and said, “Tiffany, sometimes life just happens.” She took the time to connect with me as a person first and then as her student. Her kindness and overall understanding and encouraging nature impacted me that day. I can’t say the rest of the semester was easy, but I had my fiancé, Chris, who dried my tears of frustration about z scores or whatever the lesson was that week and never stopped cheering me on. I am eternally grateful.
It was endless nights of tucking my children into bed, only to stay up for the next few hours reading and working on assignments. It was leaving the picnic early because I had a paper due. It was saying no to get-togethers because I had to study for an exam. It was all of the tiny sacrifices we endured to get to this moment together this evening, as a diverse group of individuals who all had the same goal. It was not only getting the work done but also believing enough in myself to keep going, knowing that I was good enough, knowing that I was smart enough, and knowing that I was in control of my life.
Just last week, I received notification that I had been accepted into the Penn State World Campus health policy and administration master’s program. I’ll start that program in the fall of 2020, but between now and then, I’ll keep busy planning my wedding.
As we leave campus this weekend and go back to our lives, minus group work and deadlines, no matter if this degree took you one year, two years, three years, or more, remember that you made this dream come true for YOU. Congratulations to each graduate here tonight. Thank you.