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The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

Signal

The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

Signal

A Re-Entry Graduate’s Story of Perseverance Through Uncertainty

Kristin+Platts+and+Dr.+Shannon+Stevens+on+a+trip+to+tour+the+KCRA+3+studios+in+June+2022%2C+as+part+of+Kristins+journalism+internship.%26%23160%3B

Kristin Platts and Dr. Shannon Stevens on a trip to tour the KCRA 3 studios in June 2022, as part of Kristin’s journalism internship. 

I turned 40 in July of 2021 and transferred from Modesto Junior College (MJC) to CSU Stanislaus in the Fall. Having first earned an associate’s degree in journalism from MJC in 2005, I went on to work as an agricultural journalist for 13 ½ years until a layoff in 2019 presented me with a crossroads.
A recently divorced, single mom, and suddenly unemployed, I knew I had one of two paths I could take; go out and get any job that would pay the bills, or go back to school for a bachelor degree like I had intended to do more than a decade earlier.
Decision made, once I transferred, I knew one thing for certain—I would write for the Signal.
I understood that if there was one way to jump in to this new middle-aged academic life, it would be to take the journalism skills I already had and hoped to polish, and put them to use while I was here studying creative media and journalism.
I never anticipated what my time at the Signal would bring me.
For the second time in my academic career, I was blessed to have found a journalism mentor. At MJC, it was Laura Paull, who advised the now defunct MJC newspaper The Pirates Log, which I was an editor for in the early 2000s. At Stan State, I found Dr. Shannon Stevens, the Signal’s adviser. These women have empowered me more than I can ever convey to them. 
I also found immense support and constant cheerleading from Rachel Grimshaw and Aaron Lanser, the most amazing and worthy advisers who took over for Dr. Stevens during her Spring 2023 sabbatical.
Crazy enough, I became a mentor for many of the budding young writers in the Signal lab, and discovered that I could even see myself teaching journalism one day. 
Climbing, One Hurdle at a Time
In March of 2022, I lost my best friend, Christina Swisher. Like myself, Christina had recently turned 40. The pain of the sudden loss of someone I had built a friendship with for more than 25 years was palpable. Believe it or not, she was the second life long friend I had lost in the past five years.
After Christina died, it was a truly difficult time for me as I navigated my studies, and life in general. 
The blows would keep coming. 
Just after my second semester at Stan State in the early summer of 2022, my family was hit with some life changing news. My dad, Gene, was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer. Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain cancer, with a 10% survival rate. Although he had what was considered to be a highly successful recession of his tumor, with 99% removed, the prognosis was still not good, especially at his age.
Having lost my only sibling, my older brother, Brian, in 2012, I’ve known for years that taking care of my parents in their older years would ultimately be my responsibility one day. Though I didn’t know it would come so soon and I didn’t know I would be doing it as a single mom, while swimming through academic life, simultaneously.
As I entered my last semester, I was taking a heavier course load than usual, but optimistic about my dad’s mostly steady health. And I was especially excited about a new romance with an amazing man who I’ve now fallen in love with. 
There really is something to be said for how much a person can take and still come through the other side. I’ve been called strong, resilient, brave, a badass, but by the second week of April, I was facing my most difficult set of challenges yet and I found myself struggling to find the strength that so many others saw in me.
As spring break was in full swing, my mom’s own health issues lead to having to call an ambulance for her one day. I’ll never forget the firefighter who took me aside as they were wheeling her out to the ambulance. He saw the turmoil and panic on my face as my mom tried to explain the instructions to go with the big bag of medications that I’d need to give my dad while she was gone. It was then that it hit me, I could be losing not one, but both of my parents soon. The firefighter wanted to make sure I had people to support me and his compassion and concern meant so much in that moment.
By the evening, it was determined that my mom was suffering from a very painful bout of sciatica, a pain, weakness or numbing in the leg caused by pressure or injury to the sciatic nerve. Fortunately, she was able to come home that evening.
Fast forward a week, and I had to call 911 again, this time for my dad, who had taken a bad fall in the middle of the night, resulting in two compression fractures on his spine. We didn’t know it yet, but that fall would be the beginning of the end for my dad. 
I allowed my mom some much-needed sleep that night and kept my phone on so I could speak with doctors all night and into the morning. Words like palliative care and hospice were thrown around numerous times and my head was spinning. My dad was moved into a nursing home about a week after his fall and my mom was barely holding it together each day.
By the second week after he was taken by ambulance, my dad had greatly deteriorated. It was decided that the best thing we could do to control his pain and give him some comfort, would be to move him into hospice care at home with us so that he could spend whatever time he had left surrounded by his family and his beloved cat.   
Asking for Help
Those weeks felt like more than I could handle. By the end of April, as I curated arrangements for what I knew would be the beginning of my dad’s final days, I had fallen way behind in each of my five classes. A normally diligent, straight A student, I watched a few of my grades slowly tumble into B and C territory, and I had to accept that that was perfectly okay, as long as I passed my classes and graduated in May.
My dad passed away at home with us on Friday, April 28 at 11:24 a.m. We had managed to bring him home just 12 hours earlier after a day of coordinating with Community Hospice, hospital staff, family, and friends to make it happen. I will always be grateful for the people who helped us that day and the series of small miracles that took place to get him home in time. 
As a first generation student, all my parents have wanted since I went back to school is to see me graduate. Even though my dad is gone now, I know he will be there with me as I cross the stage on May 25. 
This is where I give advice to my fellow classmates: it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, sometimes you can’t survive without it. We are all just human, and your professors know it. Give them a chance to unburden you. 
I have been incredibly lucky to have the support of the greatest staff at the Signal and the understanding of the best advisers and professors at Stan State who granted extensions, accepted late work, understood when I had to miss classes, and without reluctance, gave me time off from my job at the Signal, each wishing they could have done more for me. I also had a partner in one class who picked up my slack more than I ever intended for him to.
Truthfully, each of these individuals will never know how far they went to help me keep my head above water when I felt like I was drowning. They are all a part of my success story.
As students, caretakers, parents, partners, friends, we each face a multitude of challenges. Some of us don’t have enough to eat. Others lack housing. Some of us suffer from mental health issues, or feel marginalized or attacked for our sexual identity or the color of our skin.
One word has come to mind more often than any other as I’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of my time as an older college student, and it applies at any age and to any circumstance—grace.
I have given myself grace.
Grace to make mistakes, grace to understand that I’m only human, and grace to see myself as powerful, even when I feel helpless. 
As I pick up the pieces of yet another loss of a loved one, I am walking toward graduation with a sense of peace that is hard to describe and wholly just another part of my personal journey.
None of us knows what lies ahead, but right now, I know whatever comes, I’m ready for it.
Congratulations, Class of 2023. We got this. 
If you find yourself struggling with anything and feel like you need to talk to someone, Stan State has a variety of resources included in the cost of your tuition.  
Counseling and Psychological Services
Other mental health resources
Community Hospice

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A Re-Entry Graduate’s Story of Perseverance Through Uncertainty