Nancy Werner indulged in a gratifying moment of reflection a day before her graduation.
The 42-year-old mother, wife, puppy owner and long-time paralegal from Hicksville, N.Y., was about to add a new, life-defining title: proud graduate of New England College.
“It’s exciting to finally see the end of the tunnel,” said Werner, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration/Management during Spring 2016. “And, you know, it’s exciting to be like, ‘Wow, I accomplished this.’”
Werner’s “wow” was more than an expression of a well-earned sense of accomplishment.
During her time with NEC, life presented Werner with a more formidable obstacle than any final exam. Two years into her coursework, she picked up one other, unsought title – cancer survivor.
With only a few more courses to complete before graduating, Werner was diagnosed with breast cancer during Labor Day weekend in 2014.
“I was going to take another class at that point, and I just took a little break, because I had to figure things out,” Werner said. “And once I figured out that, OK, my treatment wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be, I was like, OK … let me go back.
“I can just finish my last few classes that I need to graduate. And it worked. And it helped also that I was on family medical leave from work, so I was able to balance my work, balance my treatment, and balance school work.”
Werner said her NEC student services representative and instructors were supportive during her cancer treatments. She received regular phone calls from her representative, just to check on her well-being.
“I think that really was them going beyond the call of duty,” Werner said. “And making sure that, are you OK? Not pushing me to come back, but just wondering how I was doing. And then when I was ready I called and I said, ‘I think I’m ready for the next class. Sign me up.’”
But she could not have made it through the treatment and final stretch of classes, she said, without the constant love, support and reassurance of her family.
“My husband and daughter were amazing. They were my big support system during my breast cancer treatments,” Werner said. “My husband did a lot of the household work, and a lot of the juggling with the child and everything that goes along with that. We just took one day at a time and didn’t look too far ahead, just managed what’s in front of you, and it worked. And here I am.”
She smiled at the memory. Behind her was a lifetime of professional and personal accomplishment, as well as that battle with cancer.
Ahead was a celebration of an academic accomplishment that she was not sure would ever happen, but one that could help push her career to another level.
Werner resumed her academic career as an NEC student having already earned an associate of arts degree. She also had more 20 years of professional experience as a paralegal and office manager for a number of New York law offices.
What she didn’t have was a four-year degree that would allow her credentials to match her work experience.
“I was going to school before I had my daughter. … I was going to college trying to get my degree,” she said. “But it’s hard when you work full time and then have to go to class full time. … Online classes allowed me to do the assignments on my time schedule, which made it priceless.”
In fact, she was so pleased with the NEC experience earning her degree online that she is considering going back for a master’s.
Werner discovered quickly that the self-discipline and time-management skills she developed while working in the medical malpractice field of law and as a busy mom would serve her well as an online student.
“You just have to be prepared to just get the work done on your own,” she said. “Because you don’t have someone there saying, ‘OK, you have class between 7 and 8 o’clock and you have to go.’ It doesn’t work that way. But if you are motivated, you can get through it. … In order to complete your assignments on time and do all the reading, you have to be strict with yourself and not be allowed to slack off just because you don’t have go to a physical class.”
A Business Administration degree with a concentration in Management positioned Werner for a potential move into a management role with a law firm. According to Salary.com, the median salary of a highly experienced paralegal is $71,249. The median salary of a paralegal manager is $95,623.
Yet, Werner was not merely motivated by money.
“I did it for me, for myself, to prove that I could do it,” she said. “Yes, it’s great to do it for your career, but it’s more important to do it for yourself.”