Diapers to Degrees: My Journey as a Non-Traditional Student

Written by Moraine Park Nursing student, Sara Henthorn

Think back to when you were just starting your senior year of high school; pondering what colleges those applications should be filled out for. I was ecstatic writing down my accomplishments and hitting the submit button. A few weeks went by, and I got that envelope in the mail that I had been waiting for–I was accepted into UW-Parkside. I graduated high school that following May in 2005 and thought in a little over two years from then that I would be graduating college, too. Well, life decided it had other plans for me. Plans that were total surprises and made me push back my academic career by 17 years.

First Go-Round

I arrived at Parkside that Fall day and thought, “This is it, time to buckle down, I got this!” Besides being a full-time student, I also had to work full-time to help pay for school. That alone was very overwhelming for me, as I have never had a full-time job before. I tried so hard to juggle all my classes and my job, but it was harder than I thought. I struggled in all of my classes and could not keep up with the assignments.  The first semester was HORRIBLE. During Winter break, I made the decision to try and tough it out until summer.  I moved out of the dorms (with hopes to save money, and maybe not have to work so much), and ended up living with my grandma. I also changed jobs but was still working 40+ hours a week. I honestly just could not catch a break. I finally hit my breaking point and just gave up. I stopped going to classes and turning in homework. I realized I just was not ready for the responsibility of college life.

Baby Dolls and Brains

After the realization that college just was not for me at that time, I decided I needed to find a good-paying full-time job. I ended up seeing an ad in the paper for a CNA class and thought “job security!” I took the class, passed the test, and there I was–19 years old and working 50+ hours a week at a nursing home in Fond du Lac. I commuted from Wild Rose for about two years and then relocated to Oshkosh. I worked at that same nursing home for seven years, but during that time something major happened. In 2011, my boyfriend and I found out that I was pregnant. I continued to work as a CNA up until the day before my water broke. The months after my baby girl was born, I had a huge awakening. I wanted to give my daughter the best life that I could, and the pay for a nurse’s aide was not going to make that happen. I enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College for their nursing program. Shortly after that, my boyfriend and I broke up, and there I was, raising a young child on my own and just starting college again. I thought I had all my ducks in a row, but once again life had other plans for me. I took quite a few online classes so that I could work and take care of her, but trying to manage all of that on my own turned into instant failure.


Many years went by after I dropped out of college for the second time. I felt like such a failure and had no intentions of returning after that. I thought life had beaten me down, so I was just going to go with it. I worked my butt off as a CNA to provide for my daughter and me, but deep down I knew there was more that I wanted to accomplish in life. In 2015, I reconnected with my now husband.  We used to work together back in 2010 at a nursing home, and he knew how much I wanted to become a nurse. We talked about me returning to school, but financially there was just no way at the time. So, once again, I sucked it up and kept on working as an aide. Little did I know, 2021 would be a life-changing year for my family and me.

Motivation, determination, and a little bit of luck!

A friend of mine worked for the company that I am now employed with. She told me about all the perks of making my own schedule and being my own boss. But her last comment to me was a life changer. She said, “If you wanted to go back to school, you are able to write off your tuition as a business expense, as it will be bettering your business.”  I had an AH-HA moment. The financial burden of school was always a weighing factor for us, and now I could finally catch a break. Yes, we would have to pay for the classes up front, but we would get it back on our taxes.  I told my husband that now would be the perfect time for me to finish up my schooling. The flexibility of my job finally lets me do this. I applied to Moraine Park’s Nursing program, and when it was time to pick classes, I felt like a kid in a candy store.  My dream is finally coming true, and this time I have all the support that I need.


The road to getting where I am today was not an easy one. I went from feeling like a complete failure to now having so much confidence and hope that I can do it this time. I am now 18 years older than I was the first time I went to college and have learned so much along the way. I am doing very well in all of my classes, and the driving force that keeps me inspired is the constant encouragement I get from my daughter. I want her to know it is never too late to pursue your dream.

Written by Moraine Park Nursing student, Sara Henthorn

Written by Emilie Wilson