As a former track athlete, Donna Smith looked at college like a race. All she needed to do was wait for the starting pistol to go off. It did, the first time, in August of 1982. She started off strong, and then: life happened.

Donna suffered several setbacks that delayed her degree. She joined the military, went to basic and advanced training, and welcomed her first child into the world. Each time, she would pick up from where she left off and keep moving forward. In the meantime, her husband (boyfriend at the time) completed his degree. Knowing how important it was to Donna to earn her degree, the two made a pact to see each other through the obstacles that lay ahead.

Eight years after her educational journey began; Donna was nine credit hours away from her goal. An exception was made, and she was able to walk across the stage in a cap and gown in front of her entire family during the Commencement Ceremony. She was so close to having her degree that she could taste it. After all, nine credit hours was nothing. This was a taste that she would still have to wait to savor though. Marriage, a second child, and two mobilizations happened instead.

When the time seemed right for her to finish what she started, and to see her end of the pact come to fruition, it seemed that a traditional brick and mortar school wouldn’t work for her lifestyle.  Upon the suggestion of her fellow soldiers, Donna started to look in to Grantham University. Though she was originally reluctant about the online format, it seemed like it would be the best fit, so she discussed her thoughts with her husband.

"He stated, 'You have spoken about this so many times, I believe the time for you to do this is right now,'" Donna said.

With her husband's full support, Donna enrolled in Grantham in August of 2010. Then, life happened again.

"My first homework assignment was due on August 10th or 11th," she said. "As I sat at my computer on the night of August 7th, I received the news that my husband had been shot."

With very little information or leads on the shooting other than mistaken identity, and with her rock absent from her life, Donna withdrew from classes.

Five months passed before Donna re-enrolled.

"There were many times I wanted to withdraw again," Donna said, "and I couldn't. Once I made up my mind, I made a personal commitment to see it through. Reminding myself of the pact that my husband and I made, and wanting to be an example to our children and others, helped me overcome the obstacles in my path and continue pushing forward."

Donna's graduation with a bachelor of science business administration came almost 30 years to the day since she began her educational journey. Though her victory is bittersweet, she fully intends to relish in it while honoring her husband's memory. Her message to others: "it is never too late to get your education, or to finish anything you commit and apply yourself to."