Pride in Progress

Becca Henderson

Note: This is the second of two works about holding down a job as a college student.

It’s time to normalize the idea of pride. We often pursue our ideas of greatness or success in hopes that others will tell us they are proud of us. Why not say, “I am proud of you,” to ourselves? Even though it’s challenging work to push ourselves to our goals or even surpass them, happiness and success are more of a mindset.  

My parents wanted both my sister and me to graduate from college, but that was the last thing on my mind when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. The idea of sitting in a classroom for the next four to six years of my life seemed like a waste of my time.  

I served ice cream for my first job. It was fun and I got into quite a few events for free, but hours were limited, and pay was minimal. Later, I worked for United Parcel Service, which proved to be difficult because of the physical labor and the long hours during the holiday seasons. I decided to go back to school, even though I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was still 18, and society told me I should have everything figured out. I took a few general education courses like math, science, and English. I passed a few and failed a few. I am still ashamed to say I failed at college three times.  

I had an epiphany while backpacking in New Zealand. I worked constantly for three years at a series of jobs to save up for the trip. I even moved back in with my parents to cut costs and buy that plane ticket. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had, and it was life changing. I woke up one day in my hostel and thought, “If I could accomplish this goal, why can’t I get my bachelor’s degree? 

I returned to my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky in Jan. 2019, went back to full-time work, and took nine credit hours that summer. Fast forward to this semester and I’m on my fourth attempt for my bachelor’s degree. I completed my associate degree last December. I have not stopped yet, even though it has been an awfully long five years. I am on track to become the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Everyone tells me how fantastic that is and how proud they are of me. 

Do I wish I had finished sooner? Yes, absolutely. I am nearly 30 years old. I am married with a mortgage, and I have children to take care of. I have struggled. We have bad days to learn how to appreciate the good days. I will graduate in May 2024, and I could not be more proud of myself.  

If you are working towards a goal, take it in small steps. Be sure to tell yourself that you are proud every step of the way.  

Here’s another first-person piece about college students who work lots of hours off-campus.