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Never Give Up: My Higher Ed Story

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Mary Sherman is one of hundreds of students who completed their academic programs with John F. Kennedy University in December 2020. This week, we celebrate their achievements in advance of the NCU 2021 Spring Virtual Commencement, which many will attend alongside NCU graduates.

Achieving my degree means many things to me, but the most important thing is that I set a good example for my sons. They didn’t always like it when I spent many hours in front of the computer on the weekend or when I was away from the house for 15 hours 2 – 3 times per week working full-time and attending classes, but it brings me great happiness to know I taught them something very important about setting and achieving goals.

What inspired me to go back to school was an inherent need to prove to myself, that I could achieve academic goals that I set for myself, and that I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. I have always admired people who were able to achieve things against all odds, and I wanted to be one of those people. If someone tried to discourage me from achieving my goals, I would kick it in to overdrive and prove them wrong every time. I really enjoy proving negative people wrong!

My career choice led me to study law. I work in the Office of Legacy Planning in the Foundation department of a community health system. As program manager, my responsibilities include working with supporters who wish to make a donation through their estate plan or other type of planned gift vehicle.  I am expected to understand the complex language of wills and trust so I can help guide donors through the process of including a planned gift in their estate. This involves not only comprehension of estate plans but also superior legal writing skills and in-depth knowledge of contract law.

My abilities were noticeably enhanced by taking legal studies classes through John F. Kennedy University. My efforts and achievements were recognized by my employer and resulted in wage increases and promotions.

Even though I achieved my legal studies bachelor’s degree in December 2020, I am continuing my education in the planned giving field by attending classes through California State University of Long Beach. Once I complete these courses in early 2022, I will be a Certified Specialist in Planned Giving, which will open the door to more opportunities in the field of legacy planning.

My life has been full of challenges but many blessings too. I came from a large family who struggled financially and experienced many tragedies, but together met our challenges head on. We kept our focus but due to the loss of our father at an early age, my mother struggled to raise 10 children on her own.  

I planned to graduate from college; however, I got married before I finished, and at the age of 19 took on the responsibility of paying a mortgage.

Soon after, we started our family and I opted to stay home so my husband could concentrate on his career and going to school. Raising a family was my priority. Ensuring my sons had more opportunities than I was afforded led me to go back to work when they were very young.

It was much later, when my sons were in high school, that a good friend told me she was considering finishing her degree. She encouraged and inspired me to start taking classes again. Even though I could only schedule one or two classes per semester, I did not lose sight of my goal. I slowly accumulated enough units to achieve my associate’s degree in liberal arts in 2017. In 2018, after dealing with a difficult divorce, I enrolled in John F. Kennedy University and worked extremely hard to become a certified paralegal by 2019. While attending JFK, I was on the Dean’s List and was inducted into the National Honor Society for Paralegal and Legal Studies - Lambda Epsilon Chi.

I am proud to say that even though COVID-19 prevented me from celebrating the achievement of my bachelor’s degree in legal studies in 2020, I feel blessed that we are now able to celebrate in 2021!    

A word of advice to other students who are going back to school: never give up. Even after the loss of my mother and two brothers during my academic journey, I pushed forward, knowing that they would never want me to quit and would be proud of me for following my dreams.

Mary Sherman
Bachelor of Arts, Legal Studies
December 2020