20-year commitment ends in two degrees

Published 9:34 pm Saturday, October 31, 2009

TRENTON, N.J. — After 25 years of marriage, Michelle Tompkins found herself blissfully approving of the outfit husband Gregory chose to wear Oct. 10. The robe, mortarboard and tassel easily passed her inspection.

That came as no surprise; she was wearing the same thing.

Amid child-rearing, household responsibilities, careers and serving in the U.S. Navy, the Tompkins have been pursuing their college degrees on and off together for 20 years.

Their journey toward finishing their undergraduate degrees concluded Oct. 10, when they each received their bachelor’s degrees during Thomas Edison State College’s 37th Annual Commencement in Trenton, N.J.

“I am a lifetime learner but have always wanted to accomplish a goal that was elusive to other members of my family — obtaining a college degree,” noted Michelle, who retired from active-duty status and now works as a systems analyst with the U.S. Navy. “Being a 48-year old wife of an ex-Navy man and a mother of two college-age children has made my life very dynamic.”

She used the college’s Prior Learning Assessment program, Thomas Edison State College courses and transfer credits to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology.

Her husband is quick to credit the college’s flexibility in helping him to maintain the tempo of a busy life while he earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree.

“Since I was assigned to rotating shifts during most of my 12-year Navy enlistment, college courses were few and far between,” he said. “Later, I took many classes at a local community college, as well as at National University, but, unfortunately, neither had delivery methods that worked for me, as I was required to travel extensively in my job.”

The Tompkins met when both were ocean systems technicians stationed overseas during the Cold War.

As parents, the determination that Gregory and Michelle had to complete their degrees served as a good example for their two children. Their daughter, Genevieve, is a 2008 graduate of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and their son, Garrett, is a junior at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

Today, the Tompkins work remotely for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, Calif.

They joined 375 graduates from 26 states and Saudi Arabia who travelled to Trenton to accept their diplomas. The college awarded more than 2,500 degrees in 2009 and has awarded more than 34,000 degrees since it began providing flexible, high-quality, collegiate learning opportunities for self directed adults in 1972.