RSU Graduates Overcome Challenges to Achieve Success

Nearly 400 students will receive bachelor’s and associate degrees during Rogers State University’s 96th commencement ceremony this Saturday at the Claremore Expo Center. Many overcame obstacles and challenges on the path to a college degree. Here are a few of their stories.

James Croft

Rogers State University’s nursing program has a reputation for being tough and James Croft said completing the associate degree is the hardest thing he has ever done. Coming from James, that means a lot. He is currently a Sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard and spent more than a year serving in Iraq.

James said he had always wanted to become a nurse. While working as a medic in Iraq from December 2003 to February 2005, he made the decision to pursue a degree in nursing when he returned to the U.S.

The Chouteau, Okla., native researched nursing programs and chose RSU because of the quality of its program. Prior to serving in the Oklahoma National Guard, James earned an associate degree in biology from RSU’s predecessor institution Rogers State College. He also served for four years overseas in the U.S. Army and worked for MCI.

He says neither of his deployments compared to the rigor of the RSU nursing program. “They push you beyond your limits and help you do things you didn’t think you could do,” he said. “You have to put everything you have into the program.”

With the help of great instructors and a lot of work, James said nursing skills eventually became second nature to him. James, however, almost didn’t have a chance to finish his degree when he was called to return to Iraq last year.

“I don’t mind going back, but I wanted to finish school first,” he said. The day before he was to deploy, James found out he was taken off the list and was able to remain in school.

After graduation James will work as a nurse in the cardiac telemetry unit at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. “It makes me feel good to know I can make someone feel better,” he said.

Debbie Hendryx

The path toward a college degree was a personal and emotional journey for Debbie Hendryx.

When she arrived at the RSU campus, she thought, “What am I doing here?” During commencement this year, she will receive a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

After years of dreaming about college and wanting more for herself and her family, she was terrified. As a young girl – and later a wife who was physically and emotionally abused by a man she would eventually find the courage to leave – she was taught that her job was to work and take care of the children. College was only a dream.

She turned her dream into reality, but the road wasn’t easy. Last spring, her son committed suicide, leaving her to raise her grandchildren. It was a devastating time, but Debbie says that her classes at RSU helped her find a place of hope and strength, and led her to a process of healing.

“I hope my story can help show people what’s possible,” she said. “You really can overcome great adversity – I’m living proof of that.”

The title of her Senior Capstone Project is “Beginning with Death,” and includes four oil paintings, each representing the aftermath of her son’s death. The first painting, “Stormy Sonset,” was created the weekend her son died. The most recent painting, “Life is Beautiful,” represents the beauty of her son’s short life, and her return to a functional, productive life. Her senior project also includes a series of five poems about his death.

Her senior project also included a paper on the search for the meaning of life and its representation in Buddhist tradition and Platonic philosophy, with examples from literature ranging from Emily Dickenson and Mary Shelley, to contemporary lyrics by Monty Python and modern horror literature in the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

After graduation, she will serve as an adjunct instructor at RSU while completing a second bachelor’s degree – a B.F.A. in Visual Art – and plans to enroll in graduate school.

Jamie Thompson

Jamie Thompson is an online student who earned a GPA of 4.0 almost every semester she was enrolled at RSU.

She was on track to graduate last year but she and her husband were in a debilitating car accident. As a result, she was not able to complete her classes.

Doctors feared that Jamie’s husband would be left blind as a result of the accident. However, his vision was restored. 

It didn’t appear at first that Jamie had been injured—in fact, for a while, she continued her coursework in four classes while taking care of her husband. But soon it was revealed that Jamie had actually suffered head trauma with some brain swelling and needed to rest in order to recover.

Many students would have sacrificed completing their education, but not Jamie. She remained in touch with her professors over the coming months, organized a move to Scotland so that her husband could begin his graduate studies, and resumed her coursework when she was feeling better.

Jamie will graduate magna cum laude this year. A resident of Nowata, she has returned from Scotland to attend RSU’s 96th commencement ceremony.