In her 12 years of schooling, she attended seven schools across three states. She followed that by attending two community colleges and a university in two states. In that time she bounced back and forth between three families and 14 different houses, not counting the three she lived in before the divorce and her time later in a college dorm.
Two years ago her grandmother – her rock and confidant – passed away. Both of her families have been through spells of extreme financial difficulty. Although she was blessed to have her tuition covered by loving grandparents, grants and student loans, she took jobs at a fast food restaurant and a big box store during her breaks from school to help earn money to get her through.
Despite the hardships and instability, she graduated high school with honors and on Dec. 10 will receive her bachelor’s degree in international affairs with a 3.5 GPA from the University of Northern Colorado. It took her six years, issues with credit transfers and a change of majors, but she did it!
The future is bright for this exceptional young lady. It’s also very clouded. At 24 years of age she has a college degree and the whole world at her feet. She is also preparing to embark on a career in an uncertain economy and without the prospects of employment beyond her current job as a cashier.
Her situation is one I can certainly relate to. When I graduated from Adams State College in 1987, I taped a message to my mortarboard that said “Now what?” I was 21 years old, had no job and was engaged to be married in two months. Times were tough in the late 1980s but somehow I made it through.
I have a very strong feeling that this young woman will do the same. The world is a much different place than it was 29 years ago. Back then we didn’t have cell phones, social media or even the Internet. We have those things today. The way employees and employers connect is very different. The world is different, especially for someone who wants to work internationally. Relations between countries are inconsistent and there is the great unknown of what the nation and world will be like under President-elect Trump.
There are times when I’m envious of this girl and the chance she has to make a fantastic future for herself. There are times when I’m afraid for her and the instability of this country’s current state of affairs.
This resilient young lady I’m talking about is Heather Southern, my firstborn child and only daughter. Heather’s journey to college graduation has not been easy. She was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., and moved with me to Colorado when my wife and I split up. Her mother soon followed. The divorce was final three years later and both of her parents remarried the following year.
When Heather was in middle school, her mother announced they were moving to Minnesota to be closer to her parents. We had a long, heated debates about where Heather would go and ultimately let her decide. She went to Minnesota and a couple years later moved again with her mom’s family to Virginia, not far from where she was born. There she graduated high school and started college.
At the same time Heather left Colorado, I made a move to Amarillo and later to Rosenberg. After a year of community college, Heather moved back to Colorado and lived with my parents while she enrolled in a community college there. With her core subjects out of the way, she enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado as an art major. In 2014 she took advantage of a program to study a semester of art in Florence, Italy. That changed her life.
Within two weeks of her return, my mother passed away. That had a profound affect on all of us, especially Heather. They were exceptionally close. That summer Heather faced the reality that she enjoyed globetrotting more than drawing and painting. That’s when she announced a change in majors. It added another semester of classes, but we think she’ll have greater career opportunities with an international affairs degree than she will with art. She does have an art minor and she is very gifted that way, so she’ll always have that to fall back on.
Whatever career course God leads her on, I’m very proud of her and she has my full support. Although I have many regrets not being a bigger part of her life, I am truly honored to have her as my daughter and I am overwhelmingly pleased with the woman she has become despite the rough road she traveled. Check that. I am proud of the woman she has become because of the road she has traveled.
She has strength of character, physical beauty and intellectual might. As a parent you can’t ask for much more than that.
Congratulations, my Little Princess! I love you so much!