A Long Hike Finished

A son’s tribute to the sacrifice and dedication it took for his father to earn his college degree

By Conor Walsh
 
Late night, in a dark room with a bright screen, he sits with the light bouncing off of his eyes. He wipes his hands over his face trying to shake off the tiredness and ignore the call of the bed, where his wife is fast asleep. It’s just another late night before an early morning, one in a long string of days that lead him toward his goal at a sloth-like pace. Sleep must be sacrificed. Sacrifice is something he is used to, though this one is different. This one is for him.
 
Patrick Walsh graduated from George Fox’s Adult Degree Program at the age of 50 with a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational leadership. The scene above is a small part of his college experience. His path reminds us that the journey of students is as unique as the students themselves. These journeys are filled with obstacles, detours, ups and downs, sacrifices and many late nights.

 
Pat’s collegiate career begins in a valley between two of the highest peaks in the mountain range of his life. He met his high school sweetheart and future wife Cindi as a sophomore at Forest Grove High School. They stayed together after graduation, married a couple years later, and grew from two to three with the birth of their daughter Caitlin soon after.
 
Between these momentous occasions was the beginning of his collegiate journey. After graduating from high school, Patrick attended Portland Community College’s accelerated electronic service technicians program. A few weeks in he got a bout of pneumonia that hospitalized him and put him so far behind he had to leave the program. He took classes sparingly but never went back in full. Then the kids came, drastically shifting his priorities.
 
Pat and Cindi would have three more kids, a total of four, by their early 30s. The longing to complete his college education would never leave him but would take a backseat to his love for fatherhood and family. College was a casualty in providing for his family – a sacrifice willingly made so he and Cindi could get the family through valleys and back to peaks. As the kids grew, Pat’s burden lessened. After all of his struggles – jobs he needed but didn’t want, layoffs and missed promotions – it seemed time to think about what he wanted to do. There was room to do something for himself.
 
Like a bruin out of hibernation, college began to peek its head out of the cave, more and more a viable option. He had two sons at George Fox; he might as well join them.
 
Pat heard about the George Fox Adult Degree Program through family members who had been through it, and he liked that the program was only one night a week. When he and Cindi discussed his going back to school, they knew there were going to be sacrifices, but they also knew that the benefits would outweigh the negatives.
 
To the dark room with a bright screen, on the side of a mountain leading to his next summit. Another late night. Many similar ones were frustrating, full of researching, writing, editing, rewriting and yawning. These would pay off as he finally put the finishing touches on the group project that will lead him through the clouds and to the home stretch.
 
“I always liked the learning and schooling process,” Pat says. “I knew that there were times I was going to have to miss being with the family, but the enjoyment of the learning process helped that.”
 
Today is the day. In his hiking attire, black except for a solitary gold rope atop his hat, he climbs four steps. It’s all in front of him. He shakes hands with the guide, raises the flag he pulled from the forgotten cave, his name scripted gloriously, secures the flag and his feet, and stands proudly atop this long-awaited peak.
 
Pat told me that a major motivation for going back to school was that he always felt it was something he was supposed to do in order to fulfill his potential. Beyond the employment benefits, it was something he needed to do to take his place in society. “There was a sense of accomplishment; it was checking a box that I needed to check,” he says. “I was proud to have my family there, to have my dad there.” With his three sons still in college he says he “wanted to show that it was something important and doable. If the old man could do it, then so could you kids.”
 
He hugs his wife, the woman that sacrificed with him; he hugs his dad, the man who taught him how to persevere; he takes his grandson in his arms, a feeling no sacrifice could mute; he hugs his kids, feeling proud and knowing it was all worth it.
  
“I encourage anyone to do go back to college. I always tell them to take advantage of the opportunity. Don’t feel you can’t because it’s too expensive, takes too much time, because of the sacrifices, or whatever it may be. If it’s important to you, then step up and do it.”

-Patrick Walsh, George Fox Graduate
BA in Management and Organizational Leadership
Commercial Billing Supervisor, Farmers Insurance