I didn't attend the commencement exercises at the University of Kentucky when I completed work on my bachelor's degree. And, I don't recall any kind of celebration, really.
All I remember is being quite pleased with myself for having done the necessary work to provide a better life for my daughter and me.
That same sense of accomplishment has to be running through the minds of the 16 women at Virginia Place who earned either an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree this spring.
But they will also tell you their success was made easier by the support they received from the staff at Virginia Place as well as from the other single parents living at the 80-apartment complex.
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"This place, I believe, is a blessing," said Jessica Whisman, 27, who earned a bachelor of science degree from Eastern Kentucky University. "I probably wouldn't have been able to finish school without them."
She and daughter Kaitlyn, 5, have lived at Virginia Place since 2006.
Virginia Place is a transitional housing and support program that provides a safe living environment and a quality day care program while single parents pursue a post-secondary education. Whisman is currently looking for a job.
Wednesday, the staff, family and friends gathered to celebrate the successes of the women who earned degrees, and I joined them.
Executive Director Beverly Henderson said hundreds of graduates have used the program to advance their stations in life since it began as the Single Parent Housing program in 1986.
It was the dream of Alberta Coleman, the founder of Lexington's Tenant Services, and Rita Story, a former local government housing coordinator and advocate, as far back as 1983. They recognized the need for a program that would give one-parent families the opportunity to get an education and develop family life skills.
When it first opened its doors to 15 families it was located on Virginia Avenue. It was the first of its kind in the Eastern United States and the second in the nation. The name of the program was later changed to Virginia Place.
Now located at 1156 Horsemans Lane off Red Mile Road a few blocks west of its original location, the program has 72 two-bedroom apartments and eight three-bedroom apartments available for residents who qualify for a Section 8 subsidy.
Ashley Johnson, 23, lived at Virginia Place with her daughter, Amaya, 2, for a little more than two years while earning a master's degree in business administration from UK. Before moving there, Johnson commuted from Lawrenceburg, adding both time and financial constraints on her efforts to earn a degree. She's currently looking for work.
"Being in school and being a single mom, you feel like everything is coming down on you," she said. "Just knowing there are other people in your situation helps. You know if they can do it, you can do it, too. It motivated me to get a degree and go on to get a master's."
Both Johnson and Whisman said the on-site day care eased their worries about their children while they were in class or cramming for exams.
"I wouldn't pick any other day care for a child," Whisman said. "The teachers are so dedicated to them. It feels good to drop her (Kaitlyn) off before going to class. It takes that burden off."
The keynote speaker at the ceremonies Wednesday was Becky Critchfield, who had been a resident at Virginia Place from 1996 until 2003. During that time, Critchfield earned two associate degrees, a bachelor's degree, and a master's in social work.
Before her son was born, Critchfield had dropped out of high school in the 12th grade, earned a GED, and then worked in restaurants to earn a living. After the birth of her son, her aunt told her about Virginia Place, and in her second semester at the Lexington Community College, she moved in.
"The seven years there really have been the best time of my life," she said.
"These women have come so far just by being able to get through this obstacle" of being the head of a one-parent family and going to school, Critchfield said. "It's not just about a diploma. It is about getting through it all while juggling friendships and family.
"I didn't realize how Virginia Place really prepared me to make it," said Critchfield, who serves as interim associate director of the transfer center at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
"They may not see it now," she said, "but it has given them the skills to be independent and succeed."