If you told me in fall 2011 what would happen in the next four and a half years, I would have laughed, or cried, or both. I would have explained why you couldn't possibly be right. I would have told you it was my turn to have an easy life.
I was a freshman at UNT, and by that time I'd survived my parents' divorce and my mother's remarriage. I'd made it through the financial hardships of my childhood -- watching my mom work endless hours, living with family friends when we lost our house, and feeling hungry after dinner some nights. I'd endured watching my mother suffer through cancer -- losing her voice, the color of her hair and even parts of her personality.
But it wasn't my turn. In 2012, I was diagnosed with a Chiari malformation and had to have brain surgery. In 2013, I met a friend whose uncontrollable seizures made her incapable of living independently. The time I spent taking care of her eventually caused me to fall so far behind that I failed all my classes and lost eligibility for financial aid, requiring me to drop out of UNT.
Then in February 2014, after almost eight years of fighting and suffering, my mom passed away. Losing her was the most excruciatingly painful experience of my life, and, trust me, brain surgery doesn't feel good. But the thing about pain is that sometimes it can wake you up. I was a college dropout with no plan, letting life happen to me, getting buffeted around by hardship after hardship. I was still waiting for my turn, and I didn't want to do that anymore. So I talked to my husband, Ryan, and we made a plan. We saved up enough cash to pay out-of-pocket tuition for two summer classes at UNT. I aced them both and re-enrolled full time that fall, having earned back my satisfactory academic progress and, consequently, my financial aid.
That October, my stepdad called. My two youngest brothers were struggling in school. So we decided that Noah, the youngest, would come live with me and Ryan in Denton. He now attends Denton High School, and I am proud to say that he is an excellent student and seems to enjoy living with his cool, older sister and brother-in-law.
So how does UNT fit into this? UNT is the school that allowed me to change my major three times in order to find my passion -- from music, to education and finally to educational psychology. UNT is the school that hires faculty members like Rania Salman, Kelly Roberts, Arminta Jacobson, Heather Allen, Julie Leventhal and Judi Bradetich (to name a few), who are devoted to the success and professional development of their students in human development and family science. UNT is the school that gave me work-study grants, which allowed me to work in a nonprofit preschool that showed me the value of community outreach and family education.
UNT is the school that works to create programs like the accelerated master's program I'm enrolled in, which is allowing me to get started on graduate work while finishing my bachelor's and giving me research experience. UNT gave me an education -- an education that will ensure that I can help people who come from experiences like mine.
It may never be my turn to have an easy life, but I'm really okay with that, and UNT helped me figure out why: Life doesn't have to be easy to be good.
Katelynn has accepted a job as the collaboration program manager at Serve Denton, a local nonprofit. She is on track to complete her master's degree in educational psychology next May and plans to stay engaged with research on divorce education and ideation after graduation. Learn more about Katelynn in a Dallas Morning News video.