Diane Endicott and Kim Clark celebrate their College of Education and Human Development degrees earned this month.
Diane Endicott and Kim Clark celebrate their College of Education and Human Development degrees earned this month.

Parental caregiving. Family health concerns. Death. Individual health issues. Child-rearing. Full-time jobs. Decades between degrees. Semesters on pause. Steady, slow progression. Then COVID-19.

There have been many hurdles on the path to commencement for spouses Diane Endicott and Kim Clark. But this month, they both achieve their long-held dreams of graduating from UofL.

Clark received her cap and gown days before she turned 50 this month. “It’s a really big thing for me. I took it out of the box and started crying,” Clark said.

Then she posed in the regalia and sent jubilant selfies around to relatives, teachers and former UofL co-workers.

“It’s almost surreal that it’s going to happen,” Endicott said, pausing from working on her last paper in the library in late November. The registered nurse started pursuing her master’s degree in exercise physiology in 2015 after a health diagnosis made her think more strategically about wellness and aging in considering her next steps.

She took a few classes and did OK, in her words, although she felt “way in over my head,” and was set to resume in 2018 when her mother fractured her hip the day before the start of classes. So Endicott sat out a year in caring for her and then for her father, who became ill. She returned determined to stay the course.

The faculty and staff in her College of Education and Human Development program permitted her flexibility to deal with what life dealt along the way – “yeah, family stuff comes first” – and encouraged her success. “I appreciate it when the professors are really about you learning things,” she said.

Then when it was time to do her required clinical internship this spring, COVID-19 interfered with the most likely in-person opportunities so she had to figure out with the help of her internship adviser how to make that work. She took an extension and put together a summer project expanding on research into a motivational interviewing tool for workshops to approach mental health, exercise, alcohol addiction and disease processes.

“You can tell people what to do but if they’re not motivated, it’s just wasted air,” Endicott said.

Motivation is clearly abundant in the Endicott-Clark household. Endicott already had begun her graduate studies when they married in 2016, and Clark always intended to continue her education. But 20 years after earning her associate degree in Paducah, Clark had “major anxieties” about seeking her bachelor’s despite having worked at UofL since 2014.

However, she applied UofL’s tuition remission benefit to afford her classes – two every spring and fall semester and one last summer – that led to her new degree in organizational leadership and learning. She left her Physical Plant job as a program assistant senior and then service coordinator about three months ago to become a facilities coordinator for LG&E.

Along the way the two have encouraged each other, quizzed each other before tests and helped with technological struggles.

“It’s been challenging – just to write a paper in its proper form” when starting out,” Clark said. “My first paper – I gave it to my wife – and she said, ‘Oh, honey, this needs a lot of work.’”

But then, through determination, discipline and the support of helpful advisers and faculty members, things got easier.

“Her confidence grew so much,” Endicott said. And Endicott felt less guilty about the family time spent on studies.

“It really has been helpful because we both pushed each other,” Clark said. “It’s nice when you have a cheerleader who lives with you.”

So what’s next, now that the couple can reclaim the home study spaces and think about the future? The two will have another graduation to celebrate when Endicott’s daughter, Jordan, earns her Spalding University bachelor’s degree in 2021.

Endicott, who confesses to having too many interests, continues her nursing work but will explore various ways to help others improve their well-being. “I know I’m going to use it, but it’s also about personally achieving this goal.”

“There’s going to be a whole sea of people after the pandemic who need help with their health,” Endicott said.

“Meanwhile, I want to develop a free exercise program for my church,” she said, hoping to figure out a combination exercise program and health and wellness instruction.

Both have “it’s never too late” advice for others who are pondering whether they can pursue an academic degree.

Endicott said to not give in to fear, to not let technology hold you back, to use the Writing Center’s helpful services, take courses related to research areas and to befriend librarians.

“Just try it – one baby step after another,” she said.

“No matter how long it takes you, you can reach that goal,” Clark added. “It’s huge for me. It’s just something I’ve wanted to do. I’m smiling from one ear to the other.”