Managing homes and getting degrees
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 14, 2007 1:45 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Two area couples reached new milestones in their respective marriages this weekend, when they walked across the stage to receive diplomas from Mount Olive College.
Their journeys go beyond the bonds of matrimony and juggling work and home schedules. One husband and wife were also separated by a military assignment in the midst of their educations, while the other became a ready-made family when one took on the custodial role of mothering her two nieces on the threshold of getting married to her now-husband.
Cheryl Pry, 35, is a media assistant at Tommy's Road Elementary School, where she has worked for the past six years. She decided to pursue her college degree when laws began requiring assistants to have an associate degree.
Husband Michael, 34, had already begun taking classes at Mount Olive College, so she decided to tackle her four-year degree there, too.
The two were close to completing the process when Michael received military orders to England in February. The decision for his wife to stay behind was a hard one.
"I had like three weeks left of school. I would have forfeited getting my degree," she said. Michael, meanwhile, was able to complete his remaining coursework online.
He was not expected to be home in time for graduation, but arranged leave time and returned to North Carolina last week. The visit will be brief, but his family, which also includes daughters Cynthia, 13, and Courtney, 11, will join him in England this summer.
Their daughters, Mrs. Pry said, "have given up more of their life with us going back to college than we have." The last four and a half years have been consumed with completing bachelor's degrees -- his in history, hers in early childhood education.
It was helpful to have the support of family and co-workers, as well as one another, she said.
"I think it was much easier because we both understood what we had to do," she said.
The couple became a "tag team" working and raising their daughters.
"They have seen what we have gone through," Mrs. Pry said. "I had always said I was going to go to college after high school but never did. Them seeing how much we have had to give up, they have decided they're not going to do that ... (they) plan to go to college after high school."
Graduating together is an achievement the spouses appreciate.
"I love the fact that we're going to be walking across the stage at the same time," Mrs. Pry said. "My husband and I are best friends so the fact that we can share this together probably means more to me than anything else."
"We share our lives together, so it is only fitting to share an accomplishment of this magnitude together," Pry added. But for him the significance extends even further.
"I am the first person in the Pry family to graduate from high school," he said. "My entire family worked just long enough to obtain the education needed to survive, then they dropped out and went to work to help support the family. To also be the first to attend and graduate college is a high achievement for me and my family."
April and Jacob Rouse of Deep Run were dating when she decided to pursue her degree at MOC through Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Mrs. Rouse had moved to the area from Raleigh, starting classes in January 2005. She convinced Jacob, her boyfriend at the time, to go back that June. On Saturday, she received her bachelor's degree in human resource management with a minor in business management. He received his associate degree in business administration. Early last week, he started classes toward his four-year degree.
Shortly before they wed last May, April, now 24, had assumed custody of her sister's two children, Brianna, now 7, and Haley, 2. She quit work to care for the girls.
"In the beginning, it was definitely an adjustment," she says now. "I didn't have kids and didn't know I was taking (Haley) until we got to the hospital. My husband didn't know I was taking her until I brought her home."
Jacob, 27, who works at MasterBrand Cabinets in Kinston, has been wonderful throughout the process, April said.
"He loves them both just like they were ours, just like I do," she said.
Not that it's been easy. Mrs. Rouse said they have had to secure day care, and prioritizing study time has been a challenge.
Since Jacob has to get up at 5 a.m. for work, April said she encouraged him to do homework first at night. In exchange, she might have had to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. to study.
"There were some semesters that we would have class the same night and have to figure out how Briannna would get to her dance class, who would take the girls out to get candy on Halloween, which one of us would have to miss class to attend parent/teacher meetings or school functions," she said.
The struggles have all been worth it now that their college degrees are looming. And while Brianna has often asked why her parents can't stay home and play instead of heading off to class, Mrs. Rouse says, "I'm always trying to let her understand how important college is."
For her husband, he had "realized that I would soon be at a glass ceiling unless I went back to school to further my education." And Mrs. Rouse said he is ready to go to work full-time to help pay off her student loans.
"I do plan to go back for my master's but plan on waiting. ... I want to get my husband out of college first," she said.
The couple said they have had fun taking classes together, being "study buddies" and often engaged in competitions to see who could score the best on tests.
It doesn't feel like it's time to graduate, Mrs. Rouse said, causing her to wistfully reflect on the experience.
"I have met some really wonderful people going to Seymour Johnson. I'm really going to miss that," she said. "In Raleigh, we don't have a whole lot of military there. It's truly amazing to sit in classes with them, to hear their stories."
And while initially Jacob was more low-key about the graduation, she has convinced him of its significance.
"My husband really doesn't like to make a big scene about anything. He wanted to wait until he gets his four-year degree," she said. "I told him, 'No, you're going across that stage.' I said, 'I'm going to dance across that stage, what are you talking about?'"
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