“When your mind is made up, nothing is impossible.”
For Conseka Parrish, completing her last assignment represented much more than earning a college degree. It symbolized overcoming one of the darkest moments of her life – the death of her mother.
“I instantly just broke down because I felt like this was hers, I did this – not only for me, but for her too,” she said.
It was an emotional moment for the 36-year-old mother and Army spouse, as Parrish thought going back to school was never within reach.
Her mother knew it was.
“I could always hear her saying, ‘You’re too smart to give up. You’ve got to keep pushing,’“ she said.
For years Parrish’s mother, Hilda Magee, encouraged her to return to school and earn a college degree. But it wasn’t until Parrish faced one of the most difficult days of her life that she made the decision to follow through on her mother’s wish.
Magee passed away October 31, 2015, leaving behind four children, 17 grandchildren and a husband of more than 40 years.
“Life as I knew it stood still. I had lost my best friend, my motivator, the calm to my storm as she always knew exactly what to say to help me get through anything that seemed impossible,” Parrish said.
At the time, going back to school seemed impossible for Parrish, a stay-at-home mother with five children, including twin daughters that were less than a year old at the time.
She listened to her mother’s words of encouragement playing in the back of her mind and decided to finish what her mother believed she could. Weeks later, Parrish enrolled and began her first online class with New England College.
“Going back to school and completing the program was something I not only wanted to do but something I needed to do, not just for myself but for my mom as well. I also wanted to show my children that regardless of the circumstances that may seem to get in the way, nothing can stop you from accomplishing your dreams,” she said.
Magee would be so proud of her today.
In January 2017 Parrish completed her BS in Healthcare Administration from NEC. Parrish graduated in under 14 months with a 3.68 GPA – while taking care of her children and relocating the family when her husband was reassigned to a new Army base in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
When she started school, her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Terrance Parrish, was stationed in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Today, they live in Missouri, as her husband is an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) instructor with experience deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and South Korea.
Parrish hopes to use her degree as the foundation for a career that can transfer as they move from one duty station to the next. With 12 years of experience in the Army and a goal to continue serving until retirement, Parrish’s husband will likely be transferred to another post. Parrish said her degree ensures she has the educational requirements to apply for related positions at healthcare facilities on base.
Looking back, college was a challenge, but one Parrish was willing to take on.
“There would be times I would be up at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning doing work because I work best when there were minimum distractions. My house was quiet so I could concentrate on my work, I would lay down and take a nap and I was right back up getting the kids out for school at 6 o’clock. It was definitely a struggle, but I was determined,” she said.
Parrish gave up sleep and took on more classes to graduate faster than she originally planned.
“I started out taking one class and the first time after I took one class I thought, ‘this is definitely not enough,’ then I progressed into two. These last two terms is when I started to take three classes,” she said.
She wanted to make sure there were leftover military education benefits for her oldest son to use in a few years.
“I was determined. I have a junior in high school. I don’t know what his plans are as far as where he wants to go to school and much less how much it’s going to cost. We may need some of this money to help him,” she said.
Parrish said NEC made that possible.
“I chose New England College for several reasons. It is a not-for-profit organization, its military discount made it very affordable, and I really liked the fact that the classes are 4 credit hours and not the traditional 3 credit hours per class. I love the schedule and flexibility.”
The program’s flexibility allowed Parrish to dive into her studies when needed and still spend time with her boys, ages 5, 9 and 16, and twin 2-year-old girls.
Her husband’s work ethic inspired her not to fail while her mother’s memory inspired her not to give up. With the combination of her family and one-on-one support from NEC’s student services representative, Parrish had everything she needed to succeed.
“My student representative was amazing, so much so, I swear it feels like she is a part of my family because she pushed me all the way through this. I can remember when I asked her about taking three classes. She asked, ‘Conseka, are you sure? You already have a full plate.’ She was genuinely concerned but motivated me every step of the way.”
No doubt it was hard, Parrish said. But her mind was set. She encourages others to do the same.
“For anyone who is interested in doing better, making a change in your life for yourself or for your children, I would simply advise you to go for it, for nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream.”