The first time Kelli Munsterman and Mary Melton graduated together, they were 14. It was eighth grade graduation at East Middle School in Leavenworth, Kansas, and the pair had met just the year before. Mary was new at school, transferring from a private school in town to the local public school system.
“We met in the gym and she took me around to introduce me to other students,” says Mary. “We became fast friends and also lifetime friends from that moment on.”
The duo would go on to graduate from Leavenworth High School together, sharing friends and extra curricular interests. They later earned their bachelor’s degrees at the University of Kansas together, walking down the KU Hill and greeting friends and families at a combined after-graduation party. Mary earned a degree in psychology while Kelli earned a degree in journalism and mass communications.
And in May, the friends attended the OUKansas City commencement ceremonies together – Kelli earning a MA in ED and Mary earning her MA in HR.
“We have always been able to relate to each other, help one another through difficulttimes, provide strength and motivation when the other is in need, and celebrate our victories together, be they big or small,” says Kelli. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to be by my side.”
Kelli currently serves as project coordinator for OU’s Adult, Professional and Online Studies campuses. She and her fiancé, Clint, have a 16 month-old daughter, Isabelle. Isabelle is one reason Kelli decided to pursue her graduate degree in education.
“I chose this program because I love working with children and have thoughts of teaching someday,” says Kelli. “OU’s education program offers vast insight into teaching at all levels, and also provided me some valuable knowledge to aid in raising my daughter.”
Mary also worked at OU as an enrollment advisor but now works at Garmin. “I always thought if I left higher education, I’d want to do corporate recruiting,” says Mary. “I recently started working for Garmin as a college relations recruiter. It’s a great job to tie my higher education employment background in with my MA in HR degree.”
The flexibility of courses made it possible for both women to earn their degrees while working full time. “I loved having the flexibility with my class scheduling,” says Mary. “The student body at Ottawa is so diverse and every student has something special to add to the experience.”
And of course, having each other through the process was certainly a benefit. “Kelli has always been a better student than me,” says Mary. “It was encouraging to have Kelli set such a strong example and see her handle her studies so well.”
“Working towards a degree while working full time and raising a child has not always been “easy,” admits Kelli, “but I am so happy that I made the decision to do it, and I’m incredibly relieved that I am finished. I am very grateful for all the things that Ottawa has done for me. I feel blessed to work at this institution.”
As for the friends’ next graduation? Mary’s in. “I have not completely banished the idea of earning another degree at some point in the future,” says Mary.
And Kelli will be there, too – just not on stage. “I’ll be a lifelong learner, but I have no desire to continue learning for a letter grade or degree,” says Kelli. “When Mary earns her next degree, I’ll be there to cheer her on from the audience, though!”
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