I want to be a teacher. I want to change the life of a child, and as a result, I will change the world.
The teenage Kristi Cantor had big plans for her life after high school - she was going to join the military and then pursue a college degree. However, as she puts it, “Life has a funny way of changing.” A heart murmur disqualified her from the military, and life led her instead to care for her ailing mother. “While caring for mom, I met and married a wonderful man and had children. When my mother passed away, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom. My education was put on the back burner.”
When her youngest child started kindergarten, Kristi began to remember her old dream of earning a college degree. “I am from a rural family in east Tennessee,” Kristi explains. “My grandparents had a two-room house with a dirt floor and no running water. My mother dropped out of high school after eighth grade, and my father dropped out after sixth grade. My mother always told me that I had to do something with my life and told me that education was the stepping stone I would need to achieve great things.” As Kristi passed the same wisdom to her own two children, she remembered her goal of becoming the first person in her family to earn a degree. “I also felt an innate desire to be a positive role model for my children. How was I going to tell them they needed a degree if I didn’t have one? So, after 17 years, I returned to school.”
Kristi chose Ashford University mainly because of the flexibility allowed by online coursework. “I could do my work whenever and wherever I chose. I’ve worked at the lake, in my backyard, at the local park, and while sitting on the beach at sunrise.” While traveling, working, and raising her children, Kristi maintained a high grade point average, and in April 2011 she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with an Education concentration*, and a minor in History.
“I felt an indescribable sense of pride when I submitted that last paper. I had done it! I felt like I could reach for the stars and bring them home. I knew that I had to walk the stage. My mother would have been there cheering me on had she been alive, and I wanted to honor her memory by walking proud as her daughter.”
Unfortunately, like so many distance learners, Kristi was faced with the financial reality of traveling from Tennessee to Iowa. Nevertheless, her husband encouraged her to plan the trip, and then one of her classmates suggested she apply for the Commencement Scholarship**, which required a video application. “After multiple attempts to make the video, I was about to give up. I sat down at my computer and gazed forlornly at my cap and gown, thinking about graduation. I sighed and said, ‘That’s sad because I had a hat for that.’ An idea was born.”
Kristi rebooted her computer and started pulling out some of her most unusual hats. “I giggled and grinned and had a great time making the video. I saved the file and submitted it before I could change my mind.” A few weeks later, while Kristi was substituting for the seventh grade, her phone rang. “I immediately recognized the area code so, I took the call. It was an Ashford representative telling me I had won. I screamed, I cried, and most importantly, I shared the news with my students. We celebrated together. After school, I called my husband and told him that we would be making the trip to Iowa.”
Kristi returned to Ashford after earning her Bachelor's degree to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology. She earned her degree in November 2013 at age 41. At that time, her plans were to earn an Education Specialist degree (EdS). “I want to be a teacher. I want to change the life of a child, and as a result, I will change the world.”
Kristi is already fulfilling that goal - her own children are inspired by her success. “Both my kids have expressed interest in attending Ashford. Look out Ashford,” Kristi laughs, “it runs in the family. You can expect at least one other avid hat collector to walk your stage!”
*This degree program was replaced by the Bachelor of Arts in Education Studies.
**This scholarship is no longer offered.