Student Spotlight

“Don’t forget what comes next” Karen Bolton

May 11, 2016 by Brandman University

Karen Bolton is the first doctoral graduate from the Brandman University Naval Base Kitsap Bangor campus and was selected as a the featured speaker for the 2016 ceremony held May 6 at the Navy Undersea Museum. Her message to graduates was a deeply personal, inspirational reflection on her own career path, which started with serving in the Navy.

Jennifer Perryman introduced Dr. Bolton to the audience. “Karen Bolton is lead faculty for Organizational Leadership and Resource Management at Olympic College in Bremerton, WA. She retired from the Navy in 2001, where among her many accomplishments, she was the first female to qualify as Flight Deck Supervisor on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Since her Naval retirement, she’s acted as a subject matter expert, writing Leadership curriculum for enlisted military members; has served as the Director for Naval Military Education programs for Vincennes University in Bremerton; and is a member of the faculty Council, President’s Council, and team member of the Strategic Resource Allocation Academic Task Force at Olympic College.  Karen has completed the Social Justice Leadership Institute at The Chair Academy, and has been a faculty coordinator for the Apprenticeship Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, directly responsible for assigning faculty to teach Organizational Leadership classes in the Apprenticeship and Helper programs.

Karen holds a Bachelor of Science in Workforce Development from Southern Illinois University, a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University, and recently completed her Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership from Brandman University. She will be hooded in a special ceremony in California on May 21st. We’re proud to have her as a Bangor campus alumnus, and Bremerton campus partner at Olympic College.”


Please help me welcome Karen Bolton. [applause].

So I want to know who’s holding the pole before I start crying?

We walked up and my colleague said “are you gonna start crying?” and I was like ‘oh my gosh, really Molly?’

But thank you Jennifer I really appreciate it, and it really is an honor to be asked to be the speaker.

You guys already heard my pedigree I’m pretty impressed with it. I was like wow, who’s she talking about? Oh ya, that’s me. So if most of you don’t know who I am, my name is Karen Bolton. I retired from the Navy, have been hanging out here teaching leadership at Olympic College. I am a graduate.

I completed the Master’s in organizational leadership in 2002. I did have a prepared speech but I just can’t do it, I can’t. It’s not me. I first want to congratulate you guys but I’m also a graduate class of 2016.

Do it with me one time – just say YES!

You have no idea how hard that was to get that done, right?

How hard was it? It was tough, right? You had to give up nights, you had to give up evenings. But let me tell you – the odds were almost stacked against me.

I was raised the youngest of seven children, and you know growing up, my parents gave us everything

I was kind of surprised – I thought wow, we had everything, but we really didn’t have a lot. But they made sure to provide for us and gave us all these opportunities so as each one of my siblings got older and all of a sudden they would go off to college and I’m thinking ‘oh okay, I guess I’m going off to college, but I had a different plan.

So, my senior year I decided to dropout, December 2nd of my senior year. My parents freaked out – I was like ‘what’s the big deal?’ The three of us – we could hang out, we could go on vacation together, right? And all of a sudden they started having these secret meetings in a back room. I was like “what are you talking about?” And then all of a sudden my mom would say “ok so in the morning you need to take the bus and come down to the office and then here is the list of places you need to apply for a job, and then you gotta come back and eat lunch with me and the ladies, and then you got a ride the bus home in the afternoon with us.

I’m like hold up, you know, that’s not going to happen. So one day when mom took

a vacation with her siblings in Florida, I decided on Monday ok I could do the job thing but I stopped off in the Navy recruiter. Wow they were really nice!

I said well my mom wants me to get a job – this is too much for me I don’t know, she stressing me out I just want to hang out and have a good time. He said you should join the Navy. I was like, cool! Ya! I could join the Navy.

He said “when do you want go – can you go tonight?” I was like whoah, hold on a minute. I gotta tell my dad. So he said “well how about Wednesday?” I said that’ll work.

So, dad comes home, working GE a double shift and I said “hey pop I’m gonna join the Navy!” He said “huh”. Didin’t say antying. So I thought “okay cool.” He said “when you leaving?” I said Wednesday. He’s like OH.

Can you tell mom? He said mmmnnnmmm [laughter]. So I left without saying goodbye to my mom. You have no idea. My dad took one for the team for years but I don’t have a lot of pictures of my parents together, but I have a great picture of my parents the day I graduated boot camp and I have never seen my dad smile so much – they’re all happy and now I know why. After they passed away a few years ago my siblings and I were sitting around and we’re trying to figure out how was it that all of us never really went back home?

Well they had a plan… we weren’t on their retirement plan. So, matter of fact, the funny story was after four years in Navy I decided I wanted to come back home and try that whole you know, the three of us go on vacation together? So my dad took me down to GE where he worked, and he said this is the forklift you’re gonna be driving, And then I start seeing all the people I went to high school with and they didn’t look happy. I’m like: I’m out.

I left, re-enlisted and continued on for another 16 years. The day after I re-enlisted my parents sold their house and moved to Florida. Matter of fact, half of my belongings are at the Salvation Army in Eerie, Pennsylvania so if any of you guys

have my Michael Jackson collection please give it back. [laughter] So you know I share that story with a lot of people because it wasn’t that I wasn’t going to graduate – I probably wouldn’t of – I was hanging out have a good time but I wasn’t challenging myself everything was on autopilot for me so I need to kind of push the envelope a little bit, which is where I went to school.

I got here I, ended up you know with seventeen years. I went to Bangor and checked in, there was Captain Mike Matthews, we served together. Captain Matthews was like so what are you going to do? What’s next? And I’m thinking “did my mother call you?”

Cause this whole time, for years my mother – you know there’s this is thing my mom would always do – she would go “ooh that’s nice.” Mom it’s raining I’m stuck in the house for a couple days

Wow, that’s nice.

I could never understand why she would always say that, but then she always followed up by saying “so what are you gonna do?” My whole life I keep having these people drop of my life saying ok so what are you going to do?

What’s next? So as I continue on I got to TTF, went to SIU. I called my mom and said guess what? I got my bachelor’s degree! Wow, that’s nice. So what are you going to do?

Oh my gosh. So I said alright well I’ll go to Chapman and get my masters degree.

Got master’s degree, retired got a good job working from home, golfed almost every day. My mom’s like “wow that’s nice, so what are you going to do?”

I’m like oh my goodness! So fast forward now I realized now what she really meant by “what’s next?” Because you can’t really kind of sit back and just wait you know people say “Wow Karen, you’ve really done a good job you’ve come a long way”

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. No, I’m not buying it I come in strong. As my cohort mentor, Dr. Julie – this woman here, boy, woooh! She had me to sit me down and say “Karen you need to calm down” a couple times.

I have to go in strong, and I have to finish strong. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until, you know what I’ll do it later. Because when I waited to get this doctorate, there’s no time to wait. I wrote my dissertation in, what a year? That was tough.

My whole life – I shut my whole life down, my friends my family are here, my neighbors – they know. They haven’t seen me in how long?

Sad, right? So I’m so proud of you guys. Isn’t that nice? It almost doesn’t even feel right. But I’m going to get on you, just like my momma would, and it’s Mother’s Day weekend so in her honor. Who here is getting associate’s degree? That’s nice.

Guess what? I know a great bachelor’s program.

Just do it, go right in, don’t pass go and collect $200 you’re fine.

And bachelor’s? How many of you guys got your bachelor’s? Wow, that’s nice. You master’s? How many of you guys? Oooh child I have my business cards right here for you [laughter]

Oh you think I’m kidding? I come prepared because it’s not enough for me to just do it I need to give back that’s something that my parents instilled in me I’m not going by myself.

Anyone who knows me knows about how many times about talk to you about the doctorate program? Didn’t I get you just a couple minutes ago? Congratulations on your graduation we’ll talk.

So, I want you guys to know that what you did is just phenomenal I’m very proud of you. You didn’t do it by yourself so these people in the audience – and I’m trying not to look at them because I’m trying not to break down have a moment. If you know me I’m very sensitive and I know and you guys all know that if we didn’t have them, none of this is possible now so I’ll give thanks to them I appreciate them I love them all and I can’t look – I’m not gonna look at Molly, she’s going to get me.

I ran into one of my old colleagues here Marianna and she said “wow you look happy, you look relaxed.” I’m like cause I wrote a dissertation and I’m done! I was so excited I got my degree conferred got my little copy I ran to the car and it was like yeah I have its here – I walked around like this rubbing it all over you have no idea it’s exciting!

But what’s next?

So never ever forget: what’s next? Don’t forget about my mama. Louise Eddie and Louise. So when you think about what’s next, think about them.

Congratulations….. that’s nice!



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