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On August 3rd, we celebrated the accomplishments of Ashworth College and James Madison High School graduates at our annual commencement ceremony. While you may think that, as an online student, you won’t have the opportunity to walk across the stage and make your family and friends proud, we’re happy to say that students come from all over to participate. We were also proud to hear from one particular student, Cristy, our 2019 Outstanding Graduate of the Year. Here’s how she made her online education work for her to reach her career goals.
“Education is a lifelong pursuit,” said Cristy Marshall-Bradley. “It doesn’t stop here, it doesn’t stop now.”
Speaking in front of over 440 graduates from Ashworth College and James Madison High School and over 2,000 family members and friends, Cristy shared the journey that brought her to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on August 3rd.
Cristy was named Ashworth College’s 2019 Outstanding Graduate of the Year by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and was given the opportunity to share her story at the 2019 commencement ceremony.
At 46 years old, Cristy earned her Paralegal Studies Associate’s Degree, graduating with honors. She was certified as one of only eleven professional paralegals in the state of South Carolina, and one of fifty-seven to be bar certified. While working full-time and studying for exams, Cristy was also able to become a Department of Veteran Affairs Accredited Claims Agent, a title only seven others can claim in South Carolina. Although she enjoys a lot of success now, getting to this point was not easy.
Cristy didn’t start her paralegal career in South Carolina. Beginning in Georgia, she worked her way up the career ladder, earning the title of Legal Secretary, Paralegal, and Law Clerk in the state. She loved her work and found success in the field.
After meeting her now-husband, Dennis, Cristy accepted a position at a law firm in South Carolina where he lived, taking a pay cut for love. But she didn’t expect that the twenty-five years of education, state certification, and training she completed in Georgia wouldn’t transfer to her new home.
Despite being devastated, she went on to accept a position with a local law firm, working for the head attorney. Cristy worried she wouldn’t be able to perform the duties required of her because of the difference between the laws in South Carolina and Georgia. Her boss, however, had faith in her abilities and pushed her to enroll in a Paralegal Degree program. She made the jump and started an online degree with Ashworth College that would fit her busy work schedule and life.
Going back to school after a certain age seems off-putting. Won’t you be out of place among younger students? Will you even remember how to study? Cristy had the same worries that many adult learners do—that it’s just too late, that there’s not enough time between working, being a mother of a teenage son, and everything else life throws your way. But she made it work for her.
“Returning to college was the greatest gift I ever gave myself,” she told the other graduates and their guests. Besides reaching her career goals in her new state, Cristy made her mother, husband, employer and—most importantly—herself proud of her accomplishments. You can still learn, grow, and discover new things about yourself and your goals by going back to school later in life. In fact, Cristy isn’t done with her education and striving for more success. Even as she celebrated her graduation from one program, she proudly stated she was working on the second semester of her criminal justice degree. Her end goal? Becoming a magistrate judge. And who’s to say she’ll stop there?
There are stereotypes about online school that cause some students to hesitate taking the step that Cristy did. Online students have a lonely experience, with little support and no connection to their teachers, classmates, and school in general, many assume. But, in reality, the network of peers, support at home and from school, can feel even stronger. With instructors available through phone and email and a community of peers of all ages, learning from home still brings with it a sense of school pride.
It also helps to have a family member studying along with you! Tyler, Cristy’s son, wasn’t in the audience just to cheer on his mom’s amazing achievements. He also celebrated an accomplishment of his own: graduating from Ashworth’s online Human Resources Associate’s Degree. Tyler took the leap toward reaching his dreams at the same time his mom did. He, too, graduated with honors.
Cristy is passionate about her career and her goals and wants others to feel that they can do the same. There will always be potential barriers, excuses, and worries. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. What do you hope to achieve in your life? What goals make you come alive with excitement, fear, and hope? Those might be what eventually brings you satisfaction. And if you’re thinking “I don’t have time” or “it’s too late,” look to Cristy. Online education allowed her to juggle her career, family, and school and has helped her understand that she can do anything she sets her mind to. You can too.