University of Louisiana at Lafayette online students display tenacity, determination, and unrelenting willpower. Destiny Theriot, 28, embodies those characteristics and then some as she celebrates meeting one goal — earning her bachelor’s in Health Services Administration online — and moving on to the next — attending Southern University Law Center.
Law school wasn’t initially on Theriot’s career map but became a stop following years of trying personal and professional experiences.
As teenagers, Theriot and her two sisters lost their parents. Her father died in a car accident when she was 15; her mother succumbed to cancer when Theriot was 17. But the Franklin native pushed on to attend college at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Her first semester, Theriot learned she was pregnant. More overwhelming news came following a routine ultrasound.
“We could tell something was wrong,” she says. “The doctor told us (the baby’s) intestines were on the outside.”
Theriot’s unborn daughter was diagnosed with gastroschisis, a birth defect causing the baby to develop with her intestines outside of her abdominal wall. As Theriot’s doctor explained what would happen once the baby was born as well as the weeks and months that would follow, Theriot tried to take it all in.
“I was so young and naïve, I didn’t understand fully what was going on and how my life would change,” she says.
She struggled physically to get to classes, but she didn’t want to stop out. By her second semester, Theriot didn’t have a choice. Her doctor put her on bedrest.
“I never could come to terms with dropping out,” she says. “I had all these hopes and plans.”
Theriot had her daughter, Ellen, in May 2010. Ellen was immediately admitted to the newborn intensive care unit. Over the next year, she underwent 10 surgeries while Theriot stayed home to care for her.
Because of Theriot’s academic performance, and because she left in the middle of her second semester, she lost her financial aid eligibility. But she knew she wanted to return to school once Ellen’s health improved.
“I decided from being in the hospital all the time with her that I wanted to become a nurse,” she says.
But first, she would have to appeal her financial aid status. She credits Dr. DeWayne Bowie, vice president for enrollment management, for helping her through the process.
“I was only able to go back to school after reaching out to Dr. Bowie,” Theriot says. “We got it all sorted out, and I went to South Louisiana Community College and became a licensed practical nurse.”
Theriot began using her credentials to manage the referral department of a clinic in her hometown.
“I can’t express the gratitude I still have from almost 10 years ago,” she says. “The second chance they gave me was the difference between a minimum wage job and $15 an hour.”
As she began to consider what would be the next step in her career, a doctor in the clinic she works with suggested health care administration.
In researching bachelor’s programs, Theriot found UL Lafayette’s online degree program in Health Services Administration.
“I was ready for the next step to come back for my bachelor’s, but I couldn’t quit working,” she says. “(Learning online) provided an opportunity for me as a single, working mother to continue my education and try to reach my goals but also be able to provide for my daughter and myself.”
After completing her core courses at SLCC, Theriot transferred to UL Lafayette as a fully online student.
“I think online classes are actually a lot more difficult than just going to class because you’re expected to do a lot more work to prove you’re actually doing something,” she says. “If you want to go back to school and you have to work, online is a flexible way to do that, but it has to be your priority.
“I do most of my work in the evenings or late at night because I have a daughter and a family. Typically once they’re in bed, I do my work, so, the flexibility helps.”
Theriot said every week she makes her game plan once courses open in Moodle Monday — she organizes her assignments based on due dates, schedules with ProctorU if there’s an exam, and makes her plan of attack.
She says she’s kept herself motivated by breaking up each semester — and her entire educational journey — into smaller, more manageable pieces.
“When I did my LPN, it was like, ‘OK, this is a year a half,’ and I conquered it. Then I went to SLCC, and knew this was what I had to do to transfer to UL. Then I did it; I transferred to UL,” she says. “Every semester it’s, ‘OK, I have 16 weeks in a semester; let me get through this week.’ I count them down, and I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the meantime, she says, she knows some things are going to have to move to the back burner.
“For those 16 weeks during the semester, I may miss a couple of birthday parties and I may miss a Thanksgiving dinner, or a family vacation because this is the priority,” she says. “It’s crucial to stay focused on your goals and have supportive people in your life who can keep motivating you when you feel like giving up.”
One of those people for Theriot has been her husband, Clint, whom she met and married while pursuing her bachelor’s.
“My husband has done an amazing job at supporting me,” she says. “On days when I just want to quit, days when I think, ‘I can’t do all of this,’ he jumps in to take something off my plate so I can focus.”
And, of course, Theriot’s daughter Ellen is in her cheering section. The two have attended school in tandem the last four years.
“She knows I’m graduating, and I think she’s really excited to experience mama achieving a goal. She’s seen me work really hard at it. She’s seen that I work all day and I go home, and do homework with her, and cook and put her to bed,” she says.
“She also knows when I graduate in May, there’s another impending change in our family dynamics because I won’t be working full-time, I’ll be driving to Baton Rouge five days a week to go to Southern. She knows there’s another change coming, but it’s small and short-term sacrifices for a long-term goals and long-term growth.”
Long-term growth for Theriot means the ability to impact h
ealth care policy regarding access and delivery — areas she’s seen and experienced from a personal perspective as well as professionally and academically. She says she intends to pursue her juris doctorate and specialize in health care law.
Theriot says she believes everyone has a purpose to the benefit of others. Although she and her family have individually and collectively been through a lot, Theriot says those experiences have guided her purpose.
“It really can take you down dark places if you let it, and we’ve all worked really hard to get through those dark times, go to school, and change the family dynamic,” she says. “I want my daughter to see that this is what you’re supposed to do; this is natural – you work, you go to school, and you contribute to society in a positive way.”
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