CLAAS Recognition Ceremony student speaker overcame obstacles to reach graduation

Carol Combs with her 3 childrenBy Val Prevish for Miami University Regionals

Making the choice to start a college education is a big decision for anyone. As the single mother of three children, Carol Combs’ decision to go to college meant juggling a job, time for family, plus studying for a degree, an undertaking many would describe as daunting.

“Scary would be an accurate word,” says Combs, 38, who has been a student at the Miami University Regionals’ Hamilton campus since 2017 and is the student speaker for the CLAAS Recognition Ceremony. “I didn’t know how I would balance work, life and school.”

Although Combs felt anxious about the prospect of college four years ago, when she walks across that stage, she will do so as a confident college graduate. She was a double major, earning her Bachelor of Science in nonprofit and community studies and applied social research. She sought a college degree to change the direction of her life and help her make a better future for her children. She says her time at Miami has already achieved this goal in so many ways.

Like many single mothers, Combs had a lot on her plate before she decided to go back to school. Also like most moms, her children were the center of her life. Her situation was exceptional, however, because her 13-year-old son Grayson has a developmental disability that causes significant delays and health struggles. He is also the reason she chose her course of study. “My career is very much driven by my life as the parent of a child with a disability,” she says.

She has worked for four years at Starfire, a nonprofit dedicated to helping improve community connections for people with disabilities. It was a job she loved immediately, but she knew in order to achieve her goals with the organization, a college degree would be an essential asset. What she didn’t foresee when she began her Miami education was how it would impact her family immediately, making them as much a part of the experience as she was.

“When I started, I thought I’d just put my head down and do the work, and not get distracted by the people around me. But now, I’m walking away with so many friends and connections. My kids even know everyone. Miami is now a part of my family. It is my community.”

Looking back, she remembers talking to her counselor in her first few weeks, wondering if professors would understand when she had a family emergency, or if she couldn’t get to class because of a sick child. She says now those same professors she worried about are good friends and strong allies.

“I have so many emotions now, but mainly I feel excitement,” she said. “I did it. We’ve been in this as a family, and when my kids look back at this time in my life and theirs, I hope they see that anything is possible.”

CLAAS Divisional Ceremony will be in-person on May 14 at 7 p.m.