For Suzanne Stokes, walking across the graduation stage in December 2017 was the culmination of 15 years of hard work that involved a lot of unexpected twists, wrong turns and seven different majors before finding the one that stuck.
Then again, all it takes is one to change everything. To go from feeling on the fray to feeling like a part of something bigger than yourself, even when you live more than 1,700 miles away.
Traveling to Tempe from Chicago was, not surprisingly, an emotional experience for Suzanne, one she was especially grateful to share with her family, as well as her best friend.
“They all knew what I had gone through to make myself better,” she says. “I had worked 40 hours every week, sometimes more, while going to school for a year and a half. It was exciting to see what I’d achieved in person, and cool to see other students from the online program who had gone through the same experience.”
Suzanne not only earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership — she also met her goal of graduating summa cum laude.
“My grades had been good, and as the program progressed I started to realize my GPA was getting higher and higher,” she says. “I set my goal and came out with a 3.95. I couldn’t believe I had done it.”
After graduating from high school in a small Indiana town, Suzanne began attending Indiana University Bloomington. Living three hours away from her family combined with a lack of support on campus ultimately became too overwhelming. On top of having to adjust to a large public university setting, her grandmother had also been diagnosed with cancer.
“I transferred to a satellite location to be closer to home and help her with chemo,” Suzanne explains. “I traded off duties with my mom for a few years and put school on the back burner.”
After her grandmother passed away in 2007, Suzanne was ready to be done with school and enter the workforce with a degree. The problem was, she hadn’t amassed enough credits.
“I went with an associate’s degree because I thought it was better than nothing,” she says. “But as I began working any job that would allow me to live on my own, I soon saw a correlation between the roles I really wanted and more education needed.”
Suzanne decided to become certified as a pharmacy technician, and would soon rise up the ranks to become the lead technician at an acute care facility.
“I had reached the peak, but I still felt like I could be something else,” she says. “I could be better.
She began looking into an online degree on substance abuse counseling. The cohort program brought together a group of students who started taking classes at the same time, in order to provide mutual support.
“I was working in pharmacy and could see how they’d go together,” Suzanne says, “but then my dad had an accident that ended up putting him in the hospital. It was a jarring thing to have happen in the middle of the program, and once you veer off path there’s no getting back into it. I was really discouraged and gave up, thinking I’d never get a bachelor’s.”
She decided to pack up her things and move to Chicago, where she hoped to find a better opportunity with upward mobility. She began working at a bigger hospital, but again found the jobs she wanted most required a higher degree. It was at work one afternoon, however, that she first heard the radio commercials for ASU Online.
She initially thought she would enroll in business administration, but after talking with admissions, determined organizational leadership was the best choice.