Rebecca Balfanz, of Elsberry, was among four Webster Governor’s University (WGU) Missouri graduates chosen to speak at the university’s commencement, held June 24 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis.
Balfanz, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, shared an inspirational story of persistence, hard work and determination with a crowd of over 800.
Balfanz, a 30-year-old mother of two, spoke about facing and overcoming adversity in her life. She endured a rough childhood – growing up in foster care before aging out of the system when she turned 17 – but was determined to go to college and create a better life for herself. She graduated high school a semester early and enrolled in community college in an effort to pursue a degree in education.
But not long after enrolling, Rebecca became pregnant with her son and decided to put her college dreams aside to be a stay-at-home mom. Two years later, she and her husband also welcomed a daughter.
Her children were just four and six years old when tragedy struck Rebecca’s family. Her husband suffered a massive brain bleed the day after Christmas in 2012 and was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease.
“It was then when we knew every day of life he had left would be a battle,” said Balfanz. “Most of all, it was then that I realized I was unprepared to face the world alone. I was unqualified to enter the workforce and provide for our two children. Regardless of the hardships we were facing, I knew I had to go back to school. I had to fulfill my original dream of becoming a teacher.”
Caring for her husband and children, while also having limited finances, made Rebecca’s dream of going back to school seem unattainable until she discovered WGU Missouri. The university’s non-profit, affordable, flexible, fully online model was perfect for Balfanz. WGU Missouri is competency-based, which means students can work at their own pace, but move quickly through material they already know so they can focus on what they still need to learn.
While her husband was receiving dialysis treatments at a local dialysis center, Balfanz was able to sit next to him and still finish her coursework. She was able to complete 53 credit units in her first term.
Four months into her first term, Balfanz’s husband received a kidney transplant. After his transplant, she was able to take two months off of school to care for him. Even with that time off, Balfanz, who first came to WGU Missouri with 12 credits, was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in two years.
Her degree has allowed her to seek and earn certification to become an educator in Missouri in three different areas.
She began working as a K-5 special education paraprofessional in the Silex R-1 School District, and was recently given the opportunity to fulfill her dream as a teacher in the same district. She will start teaching fourth grade this August.
“WGU Missouri was more than a university for me – it was a saving grace,” said Balfanz during her commencement speech. “As my husband received dialysis treatments, I completed classes. Right there by his side in the dialysis center. I was able to be a full-time caregiver and a full-time student. I am proud to say that two and a half years later, my husband, and his new kidney, are going strong. The pride I feel to be standing before you today, as he sits in the audience with our children, is immeasurable. For me, today signifies that nothing is impossible, no matter the odds against you.”