Today’s graduation ceremony at Columbia Basin College will be particularly momentous for Heather Wilson’s family.The 29-year-old is earning her nursing degree, a dream she’s had since high school. But she’ll also be joined on stage by husband Cody Wilson, brother Carson Roske and cousin Seth Lochridge, as they also receive degrees from the Pasco community college.“All the family only has to come once,” Heather Wilson said, smiling.
The Pasco family didn’t originally plan to graduate at the same time. However, as the day approached and it became feasible, they all decided to go for it, partly for the special memory but also to help push each other academically.
“We saw the light at the end of the tunnel but it’s not just a singular thing, we want to do this together,” Cody Wilson said. Heather Wilson took time away from school after graduating from Pasco High in 2002. But she was dedicated to becoming a nurse when she was hospitalized in high school for a blood condition.
“It’s a scary thing to be in a hospital but a good nurse makes a world of difference,” she said.
Cody Wilson, 28, pursued school off and on since he graduated from Pasco High in 2003. He took courses part time at CBC and Washington State University at Pullman over four to five years before he returned to the Tri-Cities and started working in industrial and mechanical installation. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said.
The couple have known each other since the seventh grade when they rode the school bus together but didn’t start dating until a few years ago. Heather Wilson had finished a medical assisting certification program at the college at the time and was working jobs at two hospitals seven days a week. Cody Wilson said that’s what got him in gear.
“I saw what she did and thought, ‘Well, I’m working only five days a week,’” he said.
He visited a counselor at CBC in 2009 and realized he only needed one more class to finish his associate degree. But there was also the opportunity to enroll in the college’s Bachelor of Applied Management program. So he jumped at the opportunity with his wife’s support.It wasn’t long after that Heather Wilson was accepted to CBC’s nursing program — three weeks before they married in May 2011.
About this same time, Lochridge, 21, graduated from Pasco High and was recruited for CBC’s baseball team. Two years ago, Roske, 18, enrolled in Running Start, a program that allows high schoolers to pursue associate degrees along with their high school diplomas.
“You can save money and be ahead of the game,” he said.
The last few years haven’t been without their challenges. For the Wilsons, it’s meant surviving on a single income so Heather Wilson could attend school full time. Her husband takes night classes, sometimes until 10 p.m., while also working full time. He studies during lunch breaks.
“Some days we’d only see each other in the driveway,” his wife said. “Even when we’re at home, we’re in separate rooms studying.”Family members realized over the past year they could graduate together and took steps to guarantee it. They recommended professors and helped each other study. Cody Wilson increased his course load, taking as many as three classes a night.
“It kind of became a real personal thing,” he said.
Most importantly, they say they were cheerleaders for each other.
Lochridge lived with the Wilsons for the past year and it gave them the opportunity to support his academics. Heather Wilson often checked in on how Roske was doing.
“Even though we’re all in different places we can still help each other,” Heather Wilson said.
Their futures will be as diverse as what brought each of them to CBC. Cody Wilson hasn’t decided what he’ll do with his degree but said he’s interested in moving up within his current company. Heather Wilson will be starting to look for her first nursing job. Lochridge said he is hoping to play baseball for another college but he’s also considering studying environmental science at Washington State University Tri-Cities. Roske said he wants to pursue the same program his brother-in-law did as he prepares to apply for law enforcement positions.
They said graduation will be big not just because they’re all finishing some aspect of their formal education, but because they did it together.
“These are memories not every family will have,” Heather Wilson said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver
All in the family
Rachael McPeak of Kennewick will graduate with an associate degree from Columbia Basin College today and will join an exclusive club at the same time: her family.
Her parents and both sisters have all earned their associate degrees from the community college since 2001. And they’ve all gone on to pursue more education. McPeak will as well when she enrolls at Eastern Washington University this fall.
“We have lived in Kennewick for almost 20 years and have supported our local community college to gain a better future for ourselves,” said sister Errika Armatrout.
Father Steve McPeak was the first to get his associate degree in 2001. Armatrout received her associate in 2010. Mother Gina McPeak and her daughter Leslee McPeak earning their degrees in 2011.
Leslee and Armatrout have already earned their bachelor’s degrees since then, from Washington State University at Pullman and Washington State University Tri-Cities, respectively. Steve will earn his bachelor’s in 2014 and Gina in 2015.
If you go
Columbia Basin College’s graduation is at 7 p.m. today at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.