After more than 20 years of balancing life while working toward her degree, Nebraska’s Misty Miller is crossing the finish line.
A longtime Selleck Dining Hall employee, Miller is one of thousands of Huskers receiving degrees May 7-8. The achievement — which Miller said still doesn’t seem real — is a culmination of balancing work on campus, family life and taking classes as time allowed.
Growing up in Essex, Iowa, Miller never thought that she would one day be a Husker.
She first moved to Lincoln in the late-90s with her then-boyfriend. Miller was fresh off a few years at a small city college and knew she needed a break — and the pair figured Lincoln would provide plenty of opportunities.
“We moved out together to find jobs and get settled to a different place,” Miller said.
Miller applied for a job at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln knowing that she could use the employee tuition credits to go back to school. She had started work toward an English degree at her former institution and continued to have a passion for literature.
That’s when life got busy.
Miller and her boyfriend got married and, soon thereafter, they welcomed two daughters. Her focus shifted from the classroom to car seats, but Miller continued to chip away at required courses as time allowed. Many times, she took semesters-long breaks to manage her other responsibilities.
While balancing motherhood, bills and homework wasn’t always easy, Miller was lucky to have a strong support system.
Her supervisors allowed her to take classes around her schedule at the dining hall, and classmates didn’t treat her any differently when she came to class in a food service uniform. Instructors engaged with questions and comments, and they even recommended scholarships for her to pursue new opportunities. Her husband spent six weeks as a single dad to so Miller could take a study abroad trip to Mexico, fulfilling a Spanish minor requirement. And, Miller’s girls patiently understood that sometimes mom couldn’t do things because she needed to study.
After years of on-and-off class taking, Miller took an indefinite break in 2011.
“I just didn’t think about (completing the degree) for a while,” Miller said. “It was on the back burner.”
While she thought about her higher education plans, it wasn’t until earlier this year that Miller decided to take the leap. Inspiration to return came after her youngest daughter was accepted to the university and will start classes In August.
“I said ‘Why not?’” Miller said. “I might as well be at college with her.”
When she called an adviser to ask about remaining required classes, she was told that they wanted to take a closer look at her degree audit. The adviser recognized that she had already taken a heavy load of classes at her previous college, as well as plenty of English, Spanish and ACE classes at Nebraska.
To Miller’s surprise, instead of being instructed on her future course schedule, she was told that she would be graduating in May 2021. After years of hard work, she had finally earned a degree.
“It’s so freeing — I have it now and I can take it,” Miller said. “I earned it.”