This is a defining moment. Standing here in awe of all of you. In a place I never dreamed I would be,” Kelli Jo Blair said when she addressed her graduating class at Eastern Kentucky University’s commencement ceremony.
Nearly a decade after she dropped out of high school, Kelli Jo was washing the breakfast dishes and watching three small children play when Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There?” played on the radio. In that moment, her life changed.
As she listened to McEntire sing about a devoted mom who feels she has lost a part of her own identity, Kelli Jo realized it was time to make her own dreams come true. One of her goals was to help families with children on the autism spectrum like her son, Cage. Often, especially in small towns in Kentucky, parents have difficulty finding the resources they need. They often have to move to more urban areas. She wanted to find a way to bring tools to her own community. She needed an education to get started.
“I knew in my heart and soul that I was made for more,” she remembered. She began working toward her GED and began thinking about college. It was a journey of growth and fear.
“The longer I was out of school, the more I thought a degree was unachievable,” she said. “It wasn’t.”
“You cannot grow without fear. If it isn’t scary for you, it isn’t growth,” she told the graduates. “I have flourished by facing these fears. I have discovered I am a writer, a leader, an advocate, and a motivator – and now a college graduate. All things I never thought of myself as before this journey.”
She chose EKU’s online psychology degree with a concentration in autism spectrum disorders. The flexible online format gave her time she needed to take care of her family and go to school.
While she took classes, she was able to pursue more dreams. She founded the Eastern Kentucky ASD and SPD support group, which focuses on autism spectrum disorder and sensory integration disorder. The organization helps families celebrate neuro-diversity in her region and beyond. She became a contributing writer for the Mighty, Disney’s Babble and the Organization for Autism Research.
Initially, she worried that an online degree program would feel isolating or that she would struggle as an older student. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all.
At EKU it’s different. They really care and want to connect you to the campus,” said Kelli Jo. She plans to continue using what she has learned in her own community.
Each year, faculty in the EKU College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences select an outstanding student to speak at commencement. This year, Kelli Jo was selected to address the graduating class, and it did not take her long to pick a theme for her speech. “No one can tell you how big your dreams can be. Not even you,” she said from the podium in Alumni Colosseum.
Whatever your dream, EKU has an accredited, online degree program that can help you achieve it. Apply today!