Crystal Dixon was pregnant with her third child, daughter Aryn, while earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kaplan University.
She took a break for two to three months during the summer of 2016, when Aryn was born.
Taking online classes while working full time and caring for her family was “pretty difficult,” said Dixon, 32, of Hagerstown.
“The reason I did it is so that I can show my children dedication and determination, so that I can give them the opportunity to do better when they get older and … give them the drive to … want to do well,” she said.
Her son, Christopher, 7, and daughter, Aniyah, 5, were among the family members to greet and hug her after she exited the auditorium Sunday at North Hagerstown High School.
Dixon was one of about 300 Kaplan students participating in morning or afternoon commencement ceremonies at the high school off Pennsylvania Avenue. In total, 410 students graduated this winter from Kaplan’s Hagerstown and Rockville, Md., campuses, including those who took courses online.
Most graduates earned associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
The morning ceremony was for the School of Business and Information Technology and School of Health Sciences. The afternoon commencement recognized graduates of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the School of Education and the School of Nursing.
Christa Madock of Smithsburg said she had wanted to earn a master’s degree in public health for 20 to 25 years, but first, she had to take care of her sons, Jacob and Samuel.
The master’s helps her professionally because now, people will see the credentials and know “I really know what I’m doing.”
But she already has 18 years of experience working as a civilian with the U.S. Army at Fort Detrick in Frederick County, Md. She helps provide medical solutions to the military.
Madock said being able to take her courses online helped her juggle her responsibilities to her family and full-time job.
She crossed the stage Sunday in a motorized wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis.
“By the end, I was very, very tired,” she said of earning her master’s degree.
Kathyrn Gratton, 36, of Greencastle, Pa., said she dropped out of college in the early 2000s, when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Going back to college “was kind of that final step of saying, ‘I beat everything’ and just ‘Yea! I made it,'” she said.
Her family, including daughter Rylie, 11; son, Gabe, 7; and stepson Jarrett, 15, were in the audience to cheer her on.
Gratton said she will use what she learned in earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration with the Hagerstown SCORE chapter, for which she is chairwoman.
SCORE stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives. The nonprofit advises small-business owners.
Gratton said she plans to pursue two master’s degrees through Kaplan.