Jennifer Hamilton: My journey to my MBA



In 2013, I was in a place in my life where I felt stuck. I saw no end in sight and cried to my mom telling her as much. Little did I know that God had an amazing journey planned out for me that never crossed my distressed mind.
During the Myspace days I created a bucket list in the blog section. Some of the things on there I have since gone on to achieve. Other things were only put there just to fill up the list. Then there were those things that were the true desires of my heart. The following journey was never included on that early aughts list.
Going back to school was not something in my character to actively want to pursue. However, in 2016 I felt a desire to go back and get my master’s degree. I believed it would be a future regret if I didn’t pursue it and I was in a place where I could make it all work out.  The university I work for encourages staff to continue the journey of learning and furthering their education. I wanted this personal achievement.  I was working for the Lamar University College of Business at the time, so it really was the perfect fit.  I was told by a faulty member about leadership courses I could take. If I completed five of their leadership courses, I would then receive the Franklin/Covey Leadership certificate. Dr. Stephen Covey is the author of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” After receiving the certificate, you had the option to apply those credits to one of the college’s MBA programs. In this case, it would be the concentration of Leadership. The Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Leadership was designed specifically for students who did not have a business background nor received their bachelor’s degree in any business-related subject. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Communication in 2004 and it was now 2016. I hadn’t been a student for 12 years.
Both my siblings had previously gone on to graduate with their master’s degrees. I’m the self-proclaimed “slacker” out of my brother, sister and me. Therefore, voluntarily putting myself back through studying, homework, writing papers, reading textbook chapters and taking tests was a muscle which would need continuous exercise.
I chose the slow and steady wins the race plan. It worked for me. I took it one day at a time and one class at a time.  I decided to first begin with the leadership certificate and then study for and take the GMAT for the MBA program.

Had I rushed through this, there’s so much of the journey I would have missed out on.

I began the morning of my first day of school in over a decade by watching a movie that motivated me for this new adventure –– “Legally Blonde.” I love how Elle Woods begins her journey at Harvard with one purpose in mind (to win back that jerk Warner), but along the way she discovers things about herself that she never realized were in her. She finds something bigger than what she could have imagined. Like Elle Woods, I was beginning a new and unexpected journey. Jennifer Hamilton graduation headshot
My first class was on a Friday in the summer of 2016. It was called Team Leadership. On this first day of class I was the second student to walk in. The student who was already there was a kind man from Pakistan named Shah. I sat next to him and he introduced himself to me. He was the first friend I made in graduate school. The courses in the graduate program are only eight weeks long. Since they run half the time of undergraduate courses, it was a lot of information coming at us in a short amount to time.  The Professors realized this and would go above and beyond to help us. They believed in us and wanted everyone to succeed. Waiting until my thirties to go back to school benefitted me greatly in the five Franklin/Covey leadership courses I took toward my leadership certificate and later my degree. Those courses required a lot of writing and self-reflection. Additionally, my years of job experience aided me with this part of the journey. I had real-world experiences that I was able to apply to the lessons on time management, accountability, being a leader, interacting with others, things I can control and things I can’t.
Graduate school is very different from any other kind of education. That’s because every student wants to be there. I met classmates from all parts of the world.  I was always one of the older students in the class, but never the oldest.  Most of my younger classmates were born in the 1990’s and I couldn’t help but think about how young they were the last time I was in school. To my knowledge, I never had a class with anyone who graduated from high school in the year 2000 like myself. Group projects opened the doors for me to get to know so many of my fellow classmates from all walks of life.  Group projects are not always equally distributed, but that doesn’t mean it’s because someone is not pulling their weight. Some people have more strengths than others. Just do what is asked of you and as a result you will contribute to the synergy of the project. Synergy was something I learned about in my leadership class titled “Personal Leadership.”
After successfully completing and receiving the Franklin/Covey Leadership Certificate, I asked my adviser if any of those credits could be substituted for electives and/or core courses on my degree plan for the MBA. To my delight, a few of them did! This was one small step and one giant leap all at the same time to get me toward my goal.
Taking on the role of student after a long absence showed me that some of my traits had changed while some remained the same. Just like “former student Jenny,” I was still shy about speaking up and asking questions aloud, but I did it anyway. This time around however, I didn’t open my question with, “May I ask a question?” In addition, I put a lot of internal pressure on myself, because I also worked with my professors in the same department. This was wasted energy because I was overthinking. I believe each one got the same speech from me upon beginning a class or before a test:  I would tell them about my internal pressure because I knew them as co-workers, assure them that I was going to work hard and do my best in class and if I failed a test, it was because I was nervous and not because I didn’t study. With the latter said, I experienced test anxiety for the first time ever. Before and after taking one I would pray to God that I would at least make a C. I also had coworkers who would pray for me on the day I had a test. I remember one time an instructor prayed for me over the phone. I usually made an “A” or a “B”. Tests help you to work well under pressure. You will study more than what you’ll be tested on, but you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you challenged yourself to learn new things. I didn’t always make an “A” or a “B” on tests though.  
One of the requirements for the MBA program for students who have not taken business classes is to take leveling courses. These leveling courses serve the purpose of preparing each student for the required graduate courses. My first leveling course, after completing the leadership program and taking the GMAT to be an official graduate student, was in financial accounting. Some days I knew what I was doing. Other days it was as though I had never seen the material in my life. Sometimes, I got things right but had no idea how I got them right. Sometimes, I got things wrong and didn’t know where my mistake was.  On the second exam I made a failing grade.  I had studied but struggled with the material.  My accounting professor was always warm, kind and supportive of me. The “F” was low enough to possibly drop my overall grade from a “B” to a “C”. At this time, the MBA program only allowed for three C’s. If you made a “D” in a course, then you had to retake it.  I spent a lot of time in her office, and she spent a lot of time and patience looking over my work and explaining things to me.  She assured me with a smile that I would be fine, even if I made a “C”.  She said that sometimes it’s good to get the “C” over with so you’ll face it and know you’ll still be ok. That wisdom brought peace. In the end, I got a “B” in the class. My professor also assured me with her kind smile to have confidence.
I would also get intimidated before beginning an assignment but was fine once I got going. Beginning is always the hardest part and the only way out with anything is through. Speaking of beginning, I usually got nervous before the first day of a new class. I was introduced to Quizlet and GroupMe. I didn’t use these apps for every class ,but they came in handy when I did.  Myspace wasn’t even around the last time I was a student, so this was my first time navigating courses in our social media consumed world.
Most of my classes were face-to-face. They were held two evenings a week beginning at 5:30 p.m. and usually ending close to 8:30 p.m. I would finish up with my work day then walk or drive over to another part of campus for class. Most of my homework was done at my work computer because I felt that my concentration was at its best in the academia environment.  I also studied and completed assignments at my hometown library, due to no distractions, and finally at my home when it was necessary. Out of all the classes I took, only four were online. Some courses were only offered online and I chose online in the fall of 2020 when I anticipated everything being shut down for Covid-19 again. Personally, I prefer face-to-face classes for learning.
My family believed in me. My friends believed in me. My professors believed in me. Other people believed in me more than I believed in myself.  One of the required courses was notorious for being exceptionally hard. One night, I was crying at my parents’ computer telling my mom how worried I was that I had made it this far only to not finish. My mind was thinking I would make a “D” in this course and spend this next year repeating it over and over again. What if I could never get the “C” I needed to go forward? What if I ended up not graduating with my MBA after all? My Mom smiled and reassured me that I didn’t need to graduate for my family to be proud of me and that I had already accomplished so much. She enthusiastically reminded me of all the graduate credits I’d already achieved and that alone was something to be proud of.
Looking back, I didn’t always believe in myself, but deep down I actually did. I know that because I didn’t quit. I also had my family, friends, professors and instructors in the College of Business who believed in me and always took the time to mentor and encourage me. I had self-doubt but I know I’m stronger mentally than what I give myself credit for. I still have these occasional feelings that I’m not smart enough fueled by self-doubt. Obviously, I am/was wrong.
I remember one day I was getting a massage –– something I treated myself to every now and then. The masseuse, who is a very Christian woman, and I were chatting as we usually did. I brought up my current status as an MBA student. I can’t remember what I said, but it must have been something along the lines of whether I was doing what God wanted me to do. She then asked me if I prayed about this endeavor prior to deciding to pursue it. I gave an embarrassed giggle, smiled and said no. She then reassuringly said that if God didn’t want this for my life, then there would be roadblocks.
There was everything but roadblocks.
Part of this five-year journey brought me to a whole other continent!
One day I was sitting in my accounting class when fate stepped in. One of our new professors came in to give a brief presentation about a new study abroad trip to Alicante, Spain. It would take place the first two weeks in January. He passed around a list for anyone interested to give their name and contact information. I wrote mine on there. This was roughly October of 2018. Well, everything worked out more perfect that I could have imagined. A few weeks later, I found out that I would be going with 10 of my fellow majors to Spain for two weeks in January of 2019.  I remember being excited and anxious all at the same time. I was excited because I was achieving a long-time dream of going to Europe. At the same time, I would be spending two weeks in a country I’ve never been to with people I barely knew or didn’t know at all. It would be a wonderful experience outside of my comfort zone. I remember thinking, as I was preparing for my adventure, that if I’m not where I’m supposed to be in life, that I must doing something right or be pretty darn close for this to be happening!
While there, I kept a journal that my sister had given me for Christmas. I visited places, bought souvenirs, took many pictures, went to the grocery store by myself and burned out my blow dryer (apparently the adaptor for my cell phone doesn’t work with a full blow dryer…Eeks!). Another important part of my adventure was the food. I ate so many good things, and the Euro stretches farther than the American dollar. The Professor that oversaw our trip said that I probably took more food pictures than anyone else. We also attended classes at the University of Alicante each day with a new professor from their university teaching each one. Everyone who hosted us and crossed paths with us in Spain was kind and friendly. We approached every conversation with Spanish, but due to our pronunciation of words it was obvious this wasn’t our first language. They were kind and patient and helped us out when we needed it. One example was when I was buying a pair of shoes. I accidentally said in Spanish that my shoe size was a 28 (Euro conversions). I had intended to say 38 (which is the Euro conversion for an American women’s 7.5). The lady at Pikolinos smiled kindly and said, “trienta y ocho.” My first trip to Europe was a surprise that six months earlier I never would have dreamed was going to happen. Going to Europe wasn’t even on my radar for 2019, and then it was! Great opportunities tend to sneak up and surprise you when you least expect it! Travel allows you to gain new insight into ways to live and the world, but at end of the day, you are still you.  Thank you to the country of Spain and the University of Alicante for making this first-time American tourist feel so welcome!
One of my biggest regrets from middle school and high school is that I did not make the Honor Society. I did qualify to be considered for National Honor Society in high school, but while my GPA was high enough for me to qualify it wasn’t high enough for me to get in. I had started out strong at the beginning of high school. I made straight A’s the first semester of my freshmen year. After that, my GPA just kind of dwindled. It was not a reflection of what I could do. I wanted the achievement with the bare minimum effort.
About a month or so after returning from Spain, one of my fellow Spain travelers and friends nominated me and two other fellow travelers for the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for international scholars. He was already a member and one of the people in charge of recruiting others who qualified. The two weeks we spent learning in Europe is what made us eligible. All three of us got in, and for the first time my parents got to go an honor society induction ceremony for me. I was so happy to have them there, and that made the induction perfect. I received a medal that I could wear to my future commencement ceremony.  Then, a year later, I received an email that I was one of the candidates who would be inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society for business students. It’s a very prestigious organization and I was elated when I got the news. It was too good to be true; however, it was true! For this they usually had a big ceremony in the evening to recognize new members. Since this was now in the time of social distancing and COVID-19, it was held in the auditorium and the only people present were the inductees. Visitors had the option to attend via Zoom. I received a Stoll and cord that I would wear with my Phi Beta Delta medal to my future graduation ceremony.
Some of my key takeaways from being a graduate student:
I can do hard things and I can do scary things.
I am capable of so much more than what I give myself credit for.
Doing things out of your comfort zone is how you grow.
No time is ever wasted, even if it means spending hours writing an essay for one of your classes, 13 pages double-spaced, and then spending an additional two hours shortening is down to six pages. It’s all part of the journey and helps you grow and learn.

“College is about learning to find the answers, and it’s not always in a book,” –– a direct quote from my dad.

One of my biggest takeaways is to have accountability. This is not only to me but also to others.
Big regret:  While I did find joy in the journey, I also spent a lot of time on that journey worrying too much. Everything I’ve ever worried about in my entire life has always turned out okay, but part of my brain is still on guard duty.  One of the faculty I work with passed on some important wisdom to me. It’s as I was nearing the end of my time as a grad student. He said to me that life is short and therefore take a moment to appreciate all I have done rather than always worrying.
Don’t drink a gallon of water before taking an exam! Believe me, even if you take care of things before the exam, you’re still going to have to go during it. I was taking an exam in my finance class when I started feeling like I needed pay a visit to another room in the building. The pain became so unbearable that I knew I would not be able to finish the exam before taking care of personal business. I was halfway done at this point. I had a kind Professor for this course, but if he had been one who didn’t allow restroom breaks then I would have taken an “F” and turned my test in.  It was that bad. Well anyway, I finally went up to his desk, handed him my test, asked if I may be excused and pulled my pockets inside-out so he could see there was nothing in them. He laughed a little and assured me it was alright to go. I knew he would, but I felt bad for asking during an exam. I put this story on here to hopefully add some humor to this post, but seriously though….Watch how much water you consume on exam day!

My final semester as a grad student was fall of 2021. I took my capstone course in the second half of that semester.  A lot was in the air. I had previously thought I’d be more relaxed by the time I reached the final course, but I found the opposite to be true. It was internal pressure I put on myself because I didn’t 100% believe in myself. I think my anxiousness also went up because I was just so close to that finish line! I tried to apply an important lesson I learned in one of my earlier leadership courses and focus on what I can control and what I can do today (circle of influence) rather than what was out of my control (circle of concern).  The last big assignment to round out my grad school journey would be a company analysis report.  It would require hours of research, an appendix section and many other facets. I started this report around Thanksgiving time. At the same time, Disney + released the Peter Jackson directed documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back.” I watched the first episode on my Thanksgiving break, and John said something in there that stuck with me as I was putting together this extensive company analysis. He said to Paul (I think) that he works better when he’s up against a wall. As an overthinker, I applied that same strategy to a degree. There were some nights when the concentration wasn’t there, or I was thinking and analyzing so much it was overwhelming. I found that if I waited to write the next morning then I could get everything out.  I just focused on the task at hand. I had over 50 sources, checked in with my professor for feedback often and was finally ready on our last class meeting day for our big group discussion regarding the company. It was the learning experience our professor created it to be. He cared more about the experience of learning and enjoying that journey.
If you want to go for your bachelor’s and/or graduate degree or any other achievement, don’t let your age stop you. Your age is not a cut-off point. So-what if it takes you until 50?  You’re going to be 50 anyway. Those sentences regarding being 50 were inspired by something Sophia said on an episode of “The Golden Girls.” She mentions to the others that she was thinking about going to law school. One of the ladies points out how old she will be by the time she graduates. She then says that she’s going to be that age anyway. In other words, don’t let any self-induced timeline or age hesitancy get in the way.  It’s harder going back to school as an adult while working full-time. I didn’t even have a family I was taking care of on top of this, so I can’t imagine the balancing act it is for those who do. One big takeaway from my 40 years of life is that someone is always watching you. With that said, you never know who you are inspiring. In life, a step back doesn’t mean you’re defeated. Sometimes, a step back is exactly what you need to go forward.  I went to a friend’s graduation ceremony in the fall of 2018 and the student who addressed his fellow graduates quoted something he had been told.

This quote stuck with me through the remainder of my graduate school journey: “Failure is a prelude to success.”

Jennifer Hamilton in front of LU art workI applied for graduation on September 10, 2021. Since I planned on this being my final graduation ceremony, I wanted to go all out. Since I’m not a “get it right the first time” crafty girl, I decided I would have someone more experienced with decorating graduation caps do mine. I had pinned some things on my Pinterest board and reached out on Facebook to see if anyone could supply a recommendation. I knew decorating my own graduation cap would not be an enjoyable experience for me. It would just be one more thing I needed to do along with my studying and homework.   A lady with a small crafting business was the referral I went with, and she made a beautiful graduation cap that told the story of my journey for $50. I would have spent more money going to the craft store, getting the supplies, and then ultimately messing it up.
Another way I wanted to commemorate my milestone was by having graduation pictures made. I wasn’t planning to mail them out to people, I just wanted them done for me. For my fellow master’s grads, I didn’t realize the brown drab color was supposed to be worn on the outside! FYI, it was correct on the big day!  This was the first time in my life that I ever had stoles, cords and regalia to sport! My Uncle Matt took many memorable and symbolic photos on the Sunday before graduation. It was tough to choose which ones to post on social media. It was great to spend that Sunday afternoon with him, walking around campus, reminiscing and sharing this experience.
My boss said something very prolific to me after it was made official that I would be graduating:
“Time to redefine yourself.”             
December 18, 2004, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Communication.
17 years later, December 18, 2021, I graduated with my master’s degree in business administration.
December 18, 2014, I was offered my first position at Lamar University.
As far as the university goes, December 18th is my lucky day!!
I arrived the morning of graduation with flipflops on my feet and some dressy shoes my friend loaned me for the ceremony in a bag. Pre-COVID, the graduates were divided up into waiting rooms based on the degree they were being awarded. There, you would adjust your stuff, visit with classmates and have a safe place to leave your belongings. You would then walk out to your seats at the start of the ceremony.
We live in different times, however. Therefore, there was no room to wait and put your stuff in. After we signed in, we were then given cards with our names and seat numbers. They wanted all the graduates seated before the ceremony began. Therefore, I changed into the nice shoes, which matched my drab colored hood perfectly, and brought my flipflops back to the car. As I was headed to the parking lot, I joked with one of the police officers I knew that I was finished and going home. I put the flip flops up, went back in and had someone help me find my assigned seat. One benefit of being seated before the ceremony starts is that I was able to text my family where I would be. Then the music started playing. I was sitting on the end of my row, so I was able to exchange smiles and waves with some of my professors as they walked past me in their regalia.
I tried to take in every moment of my commencement ceremony as possible. I had pockets on my dress and left my cell phone in there. I only took it out to respond to my uncle’s text to pose for a picture. My mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, my brother’s girlfriend, my best friend’s sister (the one who loaned me the shoes and is mentioned again in the next paragraph) and her husband all came to see me. The ceremony was perfect, yet it went so fast. I was reminded of something:  The moments we work toward go by so quickly compared to the time it takes to get there. Once you get to the top of the mountain, you’re only there for a brief moment compared to the time it took to climb. In other words, our time is more invested in the journey than the destination itself.
After I left the stadium as a newly cemented master’s graduate, I noticed that I was walking next to the university’s newly appointed president. My commencement ceremony was the second one he had been a part of since becoming our new president earlier in the year. He congratulated me and I of course thanked him. I was so gleeful. I told him that getting my MBA was never something I saw myself doing, and I was so excited about this new reality. He was very kind, and I thought it was cool that he just happened to be near me after I exited the ceremony. The graduation committee gave all of us delicious cookies from a local bakery and an alumni pen (which I currently write with at work).
The forecast was scheduled for rain that day. The rain was fortunate enough to hold off until after the ceremony. However, we had to wait until we got to the restaurant to take photos, because we all got soaked. Mom took my degree (which was in an envelope) with her to keep it from getting messed up. I took off my cap so that wouldn’t get messed up, and we all drove to the restaurant to eat and celebrate. It was pouring by the time we got inside the restaurant. I wore my graduation cap, gown and all my regalia. We took many family photos and enjoyed our seafood meals. After we were done eating, the waitress gave me a complementary ice cream dessert as a token of her congratulations.
I was not the only one who achieved this milestone in 2021.  My Cousin graduated on the same day in the afternoon commencement ceremony with her Master’s in Special Education/Ed. Diagnostician. My best friend’s little sister and my second little sister graduated about a week before with her Associate of Applied Science in Upward Mobility and Nursing, and one of my best friends graduated with her Associate in Academic and Certificate of Licensed Vocational Nurse!
The evening of December 18th, we had a big family dinner to celebrate my cousin and my graduation. We ate great food, visited with family and met new people and posed for pictures. Later that evening, my cousins, sister and I went out to a local bar that was my go-to place in my twenties. An 80s cover band was playing and we had a great time. I’ll admit I never saw the day where I would be going to a bar with my younger cousins. I am 12 and 17 years older than them and the last time I was a student they were in lower elementary school, and I was their babysitter!
Boy how times have changed!

Throughout this journey and in the months after, people would ask me what I plan to do with my master’s degree. The answer I gave is one, brief statement that summed it up perfectly:
“I’ll know when I know.”

I’ve been working on this blog post for a while. A few weeks after I typed the sentence above, I received an unexpected phone call. I was invited to apply for a vacant position on campus doing something I had never done before. I wasn’t ready to leave my current workspace, but the salary was something I couldn’t look away from, especially to move forward in my life. Opportunities are going to happen at the right time, and it may not necessarily be on your watch. If you wait until you are ready, then you might miss something. With that said, I threw my hat in the ring and applied for the position. I was invited to interview. One of the questions asked in the interview was to name a time I had to research how to solve a problem. The first thing that came to my mind was that big, company analysis project I spent so much time on…. that final hurdle I had to jump over to get the MBA.  I named that and explained what I did as my answer. Jennifer Hamiton in the Montagne Center

On April 1st I was offered the job. I’ve now started a new journey in my life that I never saw coming. I’ve done administrative work of different types since 2006 and this is the first time I’m not. I took a leap of faith accepting this position. I chose to believe in myself and take a lesson from all the times I didn’t while in grad school.  I now know what I’ll be doing with my degree because I’m doing it now. I even have my own office! In fact, the office I now occupy was once my undergrad adviser’s office when I started college in the fall of 2000! When I sat in there at 18 years old, I never imagined that one day I would be the one working from there! I feel like the timing of my graduation and the offering of my new position were all orchestrated by God’s perfect timing.  Additionally, most of the faculty who guided me through this journey have since retired or moved on to other things.
This experience will continue to open doors I can’t even see or fathom yet. 

“I’ll know when I know.”
The path to my current job gives me hope for other things. It further symbolizes that if God intends something for me, he will make sure it happens. I wasn’t seeking out another position on campus, yet this is where God wanted me, and he found a way to get me there. Sometimes, I question if I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on, life-wise. Opportunities like this remind me of one of the many ways that God is in control. It doesn’t matter what we do, or don’t do, with our free will. He finds a way to make all the pieces come together, like a puzzle creating a picture. I find a lot of comfort in that. 
I think back to the person I was seven/eight years ago who never would have thought I’d end up here. As we grow our dreams grow with us. God has big, wonderful plans for all of us. My mantra through all of this was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” ––  Philippians 4:13. What a beautiful truth to carry through life, no matter where the present and future roads take us.