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Mom graduates after 17 years of night classes

Posted: May 20, 2008 2:54 a.m.
Updated: July 21, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Jillian Griffen, left, in her home with her three girls behind her. From left in the mirror are Arika, Amber and Arielle. Jillian will graduate Thursday, 17 years after high school, with a bachelor's degree in child and adolescent development from CSUN.

When Jillian Griffith discovered she was pregnant two months after starting college, she knew that getting her degree was going to be more of a challenge, but after more than 17 years of night classes Griffith will graduate Thursday on her oldest daughter's 17th birthday.

"The fact that her birthday is the same day as graduation day, I feel like my life has come full circle," said Griffith, 36, of Valencia. "My goal was to graduate before my daughter did, and I made it."

While juggling three daughters and all their activities, working part-time as a preschool teacher and fitting in night classes when she could, Griffith has earned her bachelor of arts degree in Child and Adolescent Development from California State University, Northridge. She never could have done it without the help and support of her husband and the child care help from her father-in-law, she said.

"Between the two of them, they helped me through my journey," Griffith said. "It was very hard."

Griffith would go to her job at the preschool in the morning, chauffeur her kids from school to activities in the afternoon, attend classes at night, and then do most of her studying between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. She got her associate's degree in 1997, then decided to continue on for her bachelor's.

"I felt it was important to finish for my daughters," Griffith said. "I wanted to set an example for all three of them."

Griffith hopes that her daughters, Arika, who turns 17 on Thursday; Arielle, 15; and Amber, 5, have gotten the message that school is important. Of course, she hopes that they will get their schooling over with while they are young.

"I think, for me as a mom, it's do as I say and not as I do," she said. "Because of the choices I made, I had to grow up and be a mom, but I wanted to be my own person, too."

One of the reasons it took her so long to graduate is because she always made being a mom her main priority, Griffith said.

"So there were semesters when I didn't take any classes, or I only took one, because my kids needed me," she said.

Griffith's daughter Arika, a junior at Valencia High School, said that she tries to help out more around the house, because she knows her mom works really hard.

"I'm pretty proud of her. I know it's taken her a really long time (to graduate), but I know this is something she really wanted and she worked really hard for it," she said. "I'm mostly proud of her because she is proud of herself."

Now that her graduation day has finally arrived, Griffith said she feels like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders.

"I feel like I can give my kids more attention now," she said. "I'm going to take a year off before I go back for my teaching credential and my master's."

Arika is looking forward to having more quality time with her mom.

"I like having my mom around - having her help me with school work will be nice," Arika said. "She always supports me - I'm in soccer and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and she always supports my goals."

Arika's current goal is to become a teacher like her mother, and if she decides to go to CSUN, she may even get to attend school with her.

"That way, we may have a class or two together, which would be neat," Arika said.


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