Fifteen years after dropping out of college, Blugold to graduate with honors

| Judy Berthiaume

When Tiffany Brooks tells people that it’s never too late to chase your dreams, she’s talking from experience.

“I hope people realize that there are always chances to do better,” says Tiffany, who will graduate from UW-Eau Claire May 21 with a degree in graphic design. “No matter how bad things get, there is always a way to turn it around. It might be with help, or in ways you never thought possible, but when you get a second chance, you have to run with it.”

Tiffany was a junior English major at a private university in 2001 when she had to withdraw because her struggles with depression made it difficult to focus on her studies, which led to a lower-than-it-should-be GPA.

“I didn't see it at the time, but it was a necessary break that I needed,” Tiffany says of leaving college without her degree 15 years ago.

For a few years, life was a struggle personally and professionally for Tiffany.

“I spent years bouncing around from meaningless job to meaningless job,” Tiffany says. “I moved around a lot, just taking time being young and silly. I wasn't happy but I was just doing my own thing.

“In 2009, I hit a bit of a rock-bottom scenario (again!) — I lost a job that I was actually in love with and I realized that I couldn't just keep quitting jobs. I lost my apartment and had to move in with my grandmother. Embarrassing for someone who was almost 30. I got a new job working retail, and for the first time ever I really worked hard.”

Eventually, she moved to Nebraska, where she reconnected with an old friend from Eau Claire.

Soon their friendship turned into something more. She married Aaron Brooks in 2012 and their son, Daniel, was born in 2013.

“While I was pregnant, my husband and I decided it was time for me to go back and finish what I had started in order to give us a better future as a family,” Tiffany says of her decision to return to college, this time at UW-Eau Claire.

She quit working so that she could better balance her studies with being a mother to their young son.

She’s lucky, she knows, to have a husband who was so willing to support her — emotionally and financially — as she overcame the challenges and embraced the opportunities that come with being a nontraditional student.

“There are days where I look at my fellow students and worry that I don't fit in properly; and there are many days where that is a blessing,” Tiffany says of being a nontraditional student. “Traditional students don't always have the challenges of non-trads, but those challenges have been my driving force. My son inspires me to do my best and be the best example I can be for him.

“I was a girl who, as a traditional student, failed out of school,” Tiffany says. “And next week, I will be graduating with honors.”

Tiffany now is looking ahead to her next challenge — finding a job as a designer, likely in the Web or print fields.

“I'm looking forward to having a career that I'm proud of,” Tiffany says. “One that I can really enjoy. One that’s about more than just receiving a paycheck. I haven't had much of that before.

“UW-Eau Claire is providing me and my family a new opportunity to have a better future.”

Photo caption: Tiffany Brooks says her son, Daniel, helped inspire her to earn her degree from UW-Eau Claire after dropping out of college 15 years ago.