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Walden Magazine // Jan 01, 2015

How I Did It: Donna Walden '13

An alumna explains how her family and friends made it possible for her to complete her degree.

Donna Walden (center).

Donna Walden (center).

DEGREE EARNED: BS in Psychology

CURRENT PROGRAM: MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership

WHAT I WAS DOING AT THE SAME TIME : I head a finance department at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which includes an hour-long commute each way. I’m also a single mom with four kids. I helped three stay focused on their studies at college by setting a good example myself. The fourth is in middle school. During my studies, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had surgery and radiation therapy. Right before graduation, the cancer returned and I had surgery again. Thankfully, I’m in remission now.

BEST THINGS MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS DID TO HELP ME: My youngest son chipped in with housework and took care of our dogs, which was a great help. Overall, my kids were amazing—very encouraging. My best friend, Ginny, also helped out at the house and took care of my youngest while I had surgery. I had great people cheering me on, which is why I was able to complete my degree despite these challenges.

HOW I MADE TIME TO STUDY: Before I started my first course, I called a family meeting to talk about the changes we would need to make once I started school and to write a fair chore chart. We worked out a system, particularly for my youngest and me. We’d have dinner together, do homework, and then watch a movie. I did a lot of my research during my lunch hours to be sure I could make more time for him at home. I’d write papers after he went to bed or before he got up on the weekends. I stumbled at first. I’d wait until a deadline to start on a big project, then had to scramble. I figured out how to take things day by day, breaking each assignment into bite-sized chunks.

WHY I STAYED MOTIVATED: I’ve told my kids since they were young that they would graduate from college. I believe higher education is critical for success. It broadens your horizons, challenges your worldviews, and helps you find your passions. I finished my degree so my kids would see me as a leader, not someone who is all talk and no action.

MY HIGHEST POINT: I graduated one month before my two eldest children graduated from college. We celebrated our accomplishments at a combined graduation party with family from Chicago, New York, and New Jersey, which made it special. It was one of my proudest moments.

MY NEXT CHALLENGE: I’ve volunteered my entire adult life with organizations like Meals on Wheels, UNICEF, and the Special Olympics. My volunteerism is one way I show I am committed to creating a better world. Walden reinforced that passion for community service by emphasizing the importance of social change. My next goal is to find a career at a nonprofit to help change peoples’ lives every day.

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