Moving from Florida to pursue their graduate degrees at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was a big life decision, but is one Ben and Sicili Hale are proud to have made.
The Hales with their six children moved from Orlando, Florida, to Cape Girardeau in 2016 to pursue graduate degrees together at Southeast, and will cross the stage together during commencement ceremonies at Southeast Dec. 15.
“We explored the programs offered by Southeast and found that the degrees offered were perfect for both of us,” they said. “We especially liked the prospect of going to school together. We wanted our children to see the importance of education through our studying, and then see us cross the stage together. We can teach lessons, but it is our example they will remember.”
The opportunity to further their education was important to their personal and professional lives.
Ben is an accomplished and published author of young adult fiction. After publishing his first book on Amazon, he sold 10,000 copies in six months. His writing career took off and he has now sold many copies of his books. Yet he says he still felt his education was incomplete.
“Starting a writing degree when you’re already a full-time author presents an interesting learning curve. In some topics, I already knew a great deal, while in others I was sorely lacking,” said Ben, who will earn his Master of Arts in professional writing. “My degree at Southeast provided the opportunity to fill the gaps in my knowledge, especially because my undergrad was not in English. My professors were very understanding and helped me work through the areas in which I needed to grow.”
While Ben works full-time as an author, his wife Sicili helps raise their children. After earning her undergraduate degree in math education and statistics at Florida State University eight years ago, she returned to school at Southeast to get a Master of Arts in secondary education with an emphasis in educational technology.
“This was a great program that fit my educational and personal goals. I learned about education, teaching and technology that helps me in all aspects of my life and will continue to guide me as I pursue other endeavors,” she said. “Learning and trying new things is my goal for the immediate future.”
For Sicili, it had been eight years since she attended a college level course, and that first day was a little daunting.
“At first, I worried about my ability to be a student again, but my first course at Southeast was amazing, and reminded me that I love learning,” she said. “Each of my classes has taught me to push myself and that with hard work I am capable of more than I thought possible. Graduating with a 4.0 grade point average is an accomplishment that will continue to fortify my courage in future pursuits.”
Raising six children while completing graduate school was no small task. Date nights became study nights, and Ben and Sicili had to think of unconventional ways to spend time with their kids. Ben wrote more efficiently to shave time off his workday, and Sicili chose online courses that made staying at home with the children more manageable.
Though balancing it all was difficult, the Hales encourage parents that want to pursue higher education to chase their dreams.
“It is possible! Persevere, adapt, be flexible, be frugal, and you will discover the blessings that come from higher education. It does not need to be done the way normal students attain their degrees,” said Ben. “Achieving a degree is a family endeavor.”
Though they found their time as students at Southeast to be rewarding, the parents are looking forward to having more one-on-one time with their children post-graduation.
“Our family life did not detract from our education experience – it enhanced it,” Sicili said. “Getting two degrees in our situation was hard, but we tackled it together because we do everything better together.”