As a young girl growing up in the Philippines, Adelia Grandstaff – known as Kaye – always thought of the United States as "a land of reinvention – a place where you could go and become whatever you wanted to be."

She never thought that one day that perception would become her reality.

But then she never imagined that she would fall in love with a man from the United States, leave her home of 37 years to immigrate to Tallahassee, Fla, and search for work at a time when jobs were scarce.

"When I first moved to the United States in 2009, the timing was pretty bad. The recession was in full gear and I could not get a well-paying job anywhere. My self-confidence hit rock bottom. I felt really blessed and grateful to be accepted for a part-time job as a deli clerk at a local grocery store."

Looking for a step up

Kaye wanted to become more marketable and help improve life financially for her family. She decided an online degree in business administration and a career where she would work with people would be a good fit.

"Sometimes I feel as if society is losing the personal touch in daily transactions," she said. "What I really want to do is put the heart and warmth of a personal handshake and a smile back into business. I felt as if I could do that with a degree in business."

With an infant at home and no driver's license, pursuing a degree online made more sense and fit Kaye's lifestyle better than attending classes on a traditional campus. Having to rely on public transportation to get to school – and being at the mercy of bus schedules – would have added even more stress to her already hectic life.

Learning that fit her lifestyle

"Going to school online, I was able to set my own hours and balance everything. I had to learn how to plan my time, and that was challenging at first, but it got better over time. I learned that whether or not I felt like studying, I had to do it.

"As it was, my family often said that there were long periods of time when all they ever saw was my back, hunched over my computer!"

Kaye had earned a degree in computer science years ago in the Philippines. Since many of her credits transferred to Saint Leo, she was able to complete her degree in two years, taking two classes at a time every eight weeks

Kaye calls her experience at Saint Leo "amazing."

"Everyone I have encountered, from the students to the support staff, has been very courteous, service-oriented, and kind.

"Although our interactions were mostly through the eCollege classroom, e-mail, or the telephone, there is no mistaking the warmth and generosity of the people I have met."

After she was selected as the Center for Online Learning student to deliver the commencement address and learned that the ceremony would be live streamed over the Internet, Kaye decided not to tell her mother in the Philippines that she would be speaking.

She wanted to surprise her mother by dedicating her speech to her.

The reason why goes back to Kaye's first college experience and to her family's values.

Education in the Philippines

Education is highly regarded in Filipino culture. "In the Philippines, parents would sell their most valuable possessions for their children to be able to go to school," said Kaye. "Families place tremendous emphasis on education and mine was no different."

Kaye's mother, Delia, was the daughter of a fisherman and a stay-at-home mother. Delia and her 8 siblings all went to college. As the older sisters graduated -- all seven, including Delia, becoming teachers – they would help support the younger ones in school.

"In turn, my mother sacrificed a lot for my brother, my sister, and I to go to college."

While Kaye had earned a degree in computer science at the University of the Philippines in 1994, she said that when she was younger, she had not been very motivated. "I just got by. The degree was born more out of practicality and necessity, so I did not feel a sense of accomplishment."

For that reason, Kaye felt like she had "cheated" her mother, and was eager for an opportunity for a second chance.

An early morning surprise

Kaye says that she had always dreamed of delivering a commencement speech, and was grateful for the opportunity to apply for the honor at Saint Leo and be selected.

"Needless to say, I was thrilled and happy. Not just for myself, but mostly because I could honor my mother and her sacrifice and tell the world about it. That was what I wanted."

Kaye encouraged her mother to watch the ceremony live with her 14-year-old daughter, Hazel, who was visiting her, which they did – with surprise, pride, and joy, as well as tears.

"I hope that by earning this degree, I can inspire my daughters," said Kaye. "I want them to know that no matter how old you are, you are never too old to reinvent yourself – that if you have a dream, you can't give up on it.

Did you just graduate from Saint Leo? What inspired you to finish your degree?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Online Student Answers Calling

Project Management Is First-Generation College Grad's Passion

Faith Enables Cancer Survivor To Earn Online Criminal Justice Degree

Image Credit: Saint Leo University Communications