I was idling the 15-passenger van in the drive thru at a Wendy’s inside Jackson, Mississippi, driving the family home from our trip to Disney, when I got the email.
“Well,” I said to those members of my family who were still awake. “I am now officially a college graduate.”
Felt nice to finally be able to say that after spending more than a decade after I started taking college classes.
College was supposed to be quick, easy. Graduated high school in 2005 with a handful of college credits – a running start in the college race. Took classes at Tyler Junior College right after high school. Enjoyed it at first. Made friends. Got good grades. Went to school with my two older sisters.
Then they graduated and moved on and I somehow lost motivation while alone. Got bored with school. Couldn’t find a major I wanted that paid after graduation.
I left TJC with an okay GPA and nearly enough hours for an Associate’s. took some time off to work in Tyler, then moved to Commerce in 2009 to return to college. Decided on Journalism as a degree plan.
As with TJC, I got good grades at first. Had purpose. Made new friends in Commerce through class and the BSM. Then close friends began to graduate and move on. I got bored, distracted. And again lost motivation. GPA slipped dangerously low.
I interned at the Banner during what was supposed to be my senior year in 2012. Internship turned into a full-time position writing for the Banner and the Commerce Journal. I figured why continue college when I now had the job I wanted?
Bad decision. Loved the job with the paper and the people I worked with, but without the degree there wasn’t much in the way of upward mobility. Not enough to start a family, at least.
But instead of returning to finish college I joined the Texas Air National Guard in 2013. Then I went full-time with them in late 2014 and followed that by working for L3 in 2016, content to remain an undergraduate.
Then I married Jesse in March of 2019. Naturally, it was her who helped me finish my degree. At her behest, in the Summer of 2020 I got with the program and returned to A&M-Commerce with six credit hours left of my Journalism degree.
Only problem, they were getting rid of the program. Bye-bye Journalism degree and bye-bye all those credit hours, so I thought. Thankfully, admissions found another degree plan that would allow me to transfer most of those hours to it. Liberal Studies.
All I wanted was the degree and at that point I didn’t much care what it was in. could have been professional basket-weaving for all I cared.
But I am glad the Lord led me to the Liberal Studies program because it was there that I met Dr. Mark Menaldo who, alongside Dr. Brandon Barnes and Dr. Lamar Bridges, is one of the finest professors I have had the pleasure of taking classes under.
Taught me how to hone my writing by honing my thinking and convinced me, who originally wanted to graduate as soon as possible, to take an extra semester and write a thesis under his guidance because he thought it would grow me as a thinker and writer.
I believe it did. I wrote and successfully defended the thesis a few days before packing up and leaving for Disney.
Although I am glad I graduated this long, meandering way because it allowed me to come to Commerce, meet great friends, join C3, and marry my spouse, I do have one regret. My college experience serves as an example that it is never too late to finish what one started, to gain a degree.
It also serves as an example of sacrifice wasted. So many of those classes I failed or withdrew from were paid for by dad’s Hazelwood Act received for serving overseas. He served on an 18 month-long deployment along the Korean DMZ.
Eighteen months. So many of those college hours dad earned through his sacrifice I wasted because I couldn’t find the motivation to wake up early or study later or try harder. And I can’t take that back. I can’t undo what I have done. But I can, and I think I did, learn from my selfish and sinful mistakes.
Thank the Lord for second chances. Lord knows I didn’t deserve it. But I’m thankful for it and glad he gave me a wife who encouraged me to not give up again and use the gifts God gave me to push myself and complete the degree.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church C3).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org