Nontraditional nursing student overcomes adversity to get degree

Sunday , December 13, 2015 - 12:00 AM

 WILLARD — “I can do hard things.”

That’s a message Willard resident Kristen Oki is delivering any time she speaks about her Weber State University graduation. She will be attending the graduation ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at the Dee Events Center.

Oki, 36, is graduating with a five-year degree that took her seven years to complete as a full-time mother and part-time employee in a family trucking company.

She plans to address her graduating class by saying: “Running a home business and being a mom to three busy girls while doing full-time nursing school was the hardest thing I have ever done.” 

She is one of 2,435 WSU students who have applied to graduate this month, many of whom also have been non-traditional students with jobs and life responsibilities outside their college experience.

During the last year of her school work to receive her bachelor of nursing degree, Oki also worked full-time as a registered nurse.

Having married and started a family right out of high school, she said she feared she had passed up her dream of becoming a nurse. But she felt driven to do her best anyway.

While some told her at the start that seven years was too long of a time to wait to realize her potential, Oki said she realized time was going to go by anyway.

“I will be almost 40 when I get through this,” she remembers saying out loud. “So what,” she remembers her grandmother, Rena Anderson of North Ogden saying back to her. “You will be 40 one day anyway,” she recalls her grandmother saying.

“I am really glad I followed my dream,” she said.

And Oki also felt called by the life of another grandmother. 

The nurse is the grand-daughter of a member of the first nursing graduating class Weber Junior College had after receiving four-year status.

Carolyn Patricia “Pat” Kapp graduated in nursing in 1954, Oki said.

Besides her grandmother's profession, Oki said she also believes she was called to the work based on her personality that drives her to want to help people. She said she and her fellow students took personality tests and were surprised at how similarly they all scored.

“Nurses have a certain personality,” she said.

And that opportunity to help someone medically didn’t take Oki long to realize. On her way home from her graduation ceremony as a registered nurse one year ago, she happened upon an accident and was one of the first on the scene.

Still in her graduation clothes, Oki rendered aid to those who had been ejected from their vehicle until first-responders could arrive.

Shortly after that, she went to work for Gamma West Cancer Services. She said she can see how her efforts benefit the lives of the patients she serves.

But Oki also talked about the benefit to her life from the service of others.

“My village has stepped up their game,” she said, pointing to the many who have helped her with her children as they led busy lives themselves while Oki pursued her dream.

“I have a really good support system,” she said, naming her children's grandparents, her husband, Mike Oki, and a host of other supports, including neighbors.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

Oki said she could have made it easier on herself had she lowered her standards. But she said she wanted to be a great mother as well as a great student.

With competitive, high-achieving daughters who are in 8th grade, 6th grade and 2nd grade, she said being her best mother self sometimes meant being her best student self in the middle of the night while her children slept.

While she was talking, a neighbor, Mikkell Willard, came by her house to render her usual help at taking children where they needed to be.

“She’ simply amazing,” Willard said of Oki, “to have three kids and to juggle it all and not go crazy.”

But Oki also said she found her own strength in the process of obtaining her degree.

“You have to learn to live in the crazy,” she said. “I learned to write an APA paper (written to American Psychological Association standards) with kids all around me. I’ve done hundreds of them.” 

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook. 

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