Shellie Cohick delivered the following address at the Northern Commencement ceremony held May 30 in Sacramento, California. Potential student commencement speakers were nominated by academic advisors, faculty members and campus directors and chosen after submitting speeches to a selection committee.
As I was contemplating what thoughts, ideas and even suggestions I wanted to convey to the student body, and getting nervous even thinking about getting up in front of you and doing so, I started thinking back years ago before even beginning my college career.
I thought back to a time where I didn’t seem to have much direction and wasn’t exactly sure where life would lead me. I was told I needed to do something with my life, but what? So many choices in front of me. I knew I wanted to travel and I knew I wanted a college education – eventually. I also knew staying in the small suburban town of Berea Ohio, near Cleveland, that I was most likely destined to end up working somewhere that didn’t interest me and I would be stuck there for a greater part of my life. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I knew there were bigger plans in store for me along the way.
So in November of 1990, I made the decision to join the Air Force. Surely, that would give me some sort of direction and foundation for discipline that I obviously was lacking while still being 19 and living at home. Boy, was I in for more than I imagined. I learned to grow, fail and succeed all throughout my 22 years of serving. I traveled to places some only dream of, and some places that people dream of leaving. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the indifferent and have had many challenges along the way. But one of the most important lessons I learned is that you are always learning – you never stop. And sometimes, that is what keeps you going – it’s what you need to keep you going.
I started my college-level education path back in the summer of 1999, taking a class here and there that interested me but not really engaging like an interested student. I think at the time I did so because someone had mentioned it along the way and that it “might be a good thing to do,” so I figured, what the heck. A couple of years later I decided that hey, maybe I should take some more of these classes and see where this educational path might lead me. I’m sorry to say at the time it led me to other avenues and I decided my time was better used to travel the Pacific and throughout Europe, that my educational path could wait. After all, I was still young (sort of, in my mind) and had all the time in the world.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I realized I probably shouldn’t have waited as long as I did to get back into my schooling. I actually needed to finish for my next rank in the Air Force and ended up rushing more than I wanted to ensure I got the requirements done. But I ended up learning something new once again. I took a step back and realized that I actually understand the material, got something out of the classes I had taken and was good at it – an really started to enjoy doing so. That surprised me more than I can tell you. After completing my associate degree, I did take another couple of years of due to being sent to amazing “garden spots” in the world – which weren’t exactly that, if you could imagine! But returning from these spots I decided that it was time to just go for it and finish. Take the plunge. What was I waiting for?
I decided to hang up my military hat and become a full-time student at Brandman, and boy what a ride it has been. I was scared. I was a 42-year-old retiree, starting on yet another new path in my life. I must be crazy! Would I fit in? Would I understand the college world? How would the other students be? I felt like I was once again back in high school as a freshman with all these unanswered questions.
Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. After speaking with my amazing advisors at the Travis Air Force Base campus, Sandy Handel and Elsa Klassen, I was excited about taking my classes, and on my way down a path I was certain I would finish – one of these days!
Of course during this adventure and journey, not all was bright and shiny. I’m pretty sure I never really want to go through or see a capstone class again, but I managed and stuck through it all. I loved the diversity of not only my classes but of each instructor. Their backgrounds, experiences and ways of teaching contributed to my learning experience more than I can express. I loved the fact that not only the instructs but students as well brought something different to each class. And that we all seemed to learn something from each other that we hadn’t thought about before. Slowly Brandman and each person there, whether student or instructor, became part of my “new” family.
So what have I learned? Many, many thing but I’d like to share just a couple that are important to me. First, stop worrying so much, OK? Stop being scared of the unknown because anything I worried about didn’t happen. Other things happened, but not what I worried about. The unknown we can’t do anything about, and I don’t remember any of the moments where I worried and that’s a lot of time I couldn’t get back.
Second, raise the bar higher. It is nosy out there and for some reason, people want to see you fail. But that’s not your problem. That’s their problem. I only remember the moments where I tried beyond what I thought I could do. I do not remember the failures because I didn’t. Nothing is a failure. It’s just not supposed to work out that way because something better is supposed to come along. Don’t do the one-arm hug, because when you hug with two arms, it allows you to lean on somebody and we always need someone to lean on.
Third, go find your joy. Are you going to have a good day or are you going to have a great day, because it’s completely up to you. It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. You’re not going to remember how you worried. You’re not going to remember the what ifs or the why or who wronged you. It’s the joy that stays with you, and I want to thank every one of my Brandman family for the amazing joy that my educational path has brought me to.
A quote from Earl Bakken given at the University of Hawaii in May of 2004 gives some sound advice, “Never give into pessimism. DOn’t know that you can’t fly, and you will soar like an eagle. Don’t end up regretting what you did not do because you were too lazy or too frightened to soar. Be a bumblebee! And soar to the heavens. You can do it.”
Don’t let anyone define who you are. What you can conceive in your mind, believe in your heart, you can achieve with your efforts. Nothing is impossible. It’s just the degree of difficulty!
Congratulations to the Class of 2015 Brandman University graduates. Whatever your path may have been, we’ve all come a long way and have accomplished something amazing. Take time to enjoy it. We’ve certainly earned it! I wish each and every one of you great success in your future endeavors!
About the author
Shellie Cohick earned a Bachelor of Arts in social science from the Travis campus. During her time in the Air Force she worked as an information resource manager in support of the Department of Defense and the State Department. She alo served in Kyrgyz Republic, Italy, Germany and Iraq. She is currently an executive assistant with the California Environmental Protection Agency. She and her husband, Jason, are the parents of a 2-moth-old daughter, Hope.
Become a Student
Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?