In spring 2004, Jennifer Washam was a community college student when she received a phone call that changed her life.
Her boyfriend, U.S. Army Sgt. Joe Washam, had been badly burned in an explosion while on duty in Iraq. She finished her finals, but then put her education on hold while he recovered.
"Caring for him was my priority," Jennifer says.
But this spring, she graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. During those 16 years, she married Joe, who earned his bachelor's degree in applied arts and sciences, and she gave birth to their son, Kingsley. Five years ago, she decided it was time to return to school and finish her degree.
She excelled -- graduating summa cum laude, getting inducted as a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an honor society for educators, and receiving the Outstanding Student in ESL Award from the College of Education in 2019. She also won a scholarship from Hope For The Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides support to military families.
And now she has accepted a position at a local elementary school where she will teach this fall. She has wanted to be a teacher since the first grade.
"There's nothing wrong with being selfish when it means you're taking initiative to do something that matters to you," she says.
Brian Elliott, who earned his doctorate this spring, never allows his visual impairment to slow him down.
Brian Elliott didn't expect to finish his time at UNT defending his doctoral dissertation in a Zoom meeting, but "it ended up not being a big deal."
It's not surprising he took it in stride. After all, he earned three UNT degrees in history while living with Stargardt's disease, a visual impairment he was diagnosed with as a teen.
Elliott, selected as a special projects research assistant for UNT's Portal to Texas History, has published book reviews and has manuscripts under consideration by several journals. He was named the history department's 2019 Outstanding Teaching Fellow and teaches history in the diploma program at Westlake Academy.
"The professors I've worked with taught me the value of bringing an infectious energy into every learning environment," Elliott says, "and to always believe that every student in the room wants to be there just as much as you."
Jeremy Diamond's path, from a community college freshman majoring in biology to a UNT senior graduating with a B.F.A. in studio art and specializing in metalsmithing, followed a progression as natural as the art he creates.
An instructor suggested he find a field that he truly enjoyed. Diamond loved art, but wasn't sure what specialty to pursue.
Would it be drawing and painting? Or something else? He's always wanted to try ceramics, but that didn't happen either. He was too late and all the ceramics classes he wanted were full. So he enrolled in a metalsmithing course instead.
"I never really thought of metalsmithing as a form of art," says Diamond, who earned his B.F.A. this spring. "But, as soon as I tried it, it clicked. It was what I wanted to do. In fact, it was the best thing I had ever done."
Her desire to support children with hearing impairments fueled Maite Gomez's passion for speech pathology.
When Maite Gomez was diagnosed with a neuro-muscular disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth at age 11, it led her to find her passion.
She attended Lions Camp as a kid, and noticed the children with hearing impairments had a hard time communicating with their fellow campers.
"I wanted to give a voice to those no one would listen to," Gomez says.
As she grew older, she began researching schools and audiology programs across the state and found one that surpassed all her criteria -- UNT.
"All the professors in this field really care about their students and students' success," she says.
Gomez graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in audiology and speech-language pathology and she hopes to continue at UNT, eyeing a master's degree in speech-language pathology and a doctorate in audiology before eventually working with children in a hospital setting.