By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Kimberley Orcutt has been part of every commencement since she started working at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in January 2009.
As a member of the UNK Facilities Management and Planning team, she provides assistance before and after the event, ensuring items such as the graduation robes, mortarboards, medallions, gonfalons and ceremonial mace make it to the proper locations.
Last week, though, Orcutt took a day off from her responsibilities – for good reason. She was among the 387 students who earned degrees Friday during UNK’s winter commencement ceremony.
Her husband Scott, three daughters, son-in-law, mother and friends were all in attendance as Orcutt walked across the stage inside the Health and Sports Center to receive her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a management emphasis.
It was an emotional moment for the soon-to-be 44-year-old.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m going to be 44 and I’m finally getting my degree,” said Orcutt, whose birthday is next month. “It’s not the path I would recommend people take. I still say go to high school, graduate, go to college. It’s going to make your life a whole lot easier than trying to do it the way I did it.
“But I did it, so it can be done.”
Orcutt was a 19-year-old mother when she first enrolled at UNK more than two decades ago.
A college degree is something she always wanted, but the timing wasn’t right.
“It was really hard for me to juggle at that point,” said Orcutt, who didn’t even finish a semester.
Life only got more hectic as her family grew.
Her second daughter was born a couple years later, she remarried, and her youngest daughter arrived in 2006. All the while, that goal of pursuing higher education sat on the back burner.
It wasn’t until 2012, more than three years after she started working at UNK, that Orcutt began having serious discussions about returning to college. She had just graduated from the Leadership UNK program and her classmates encouraged her to look into the idea.
As an added incentive, UNK’s employee scholarship program allows full-time and retired employees to take up to 15 credit hours per year without paying tuition.
“UNK opened a door and gave me the opportunity to do it. And I would have been a fool not to take them up on that,” Orcutt said.
The Kearney native enrolled in classes in fall 2012 and never looked back.
Attending college while working full time and raising a family isn’t easy – Orcutt definitely knows that – but she had a lot of help along the way.
“It’s not something you can do by yourself,” she said.
Her children were very understanding of her educational obligations and her husband stepped up around the house, tackling the daily chores and making sure the kids got to their activities.
“He’s become a really great cook and he’s probably going to have to show me how to use a washing machine again,” Orcutt said with a laugh.
“Without his support and the family support, I don’t think I could have done it,” she added. “It’s not just my achievement. It’s theirs, too.”
Orcutt also took advantage of the flexibility provided by UNK. Because the business administration program is offered online and on campus, she was able to choose the course format that best fit her schedule and learning style while working at her preferred pace. Facilities Management and Planning even allowed her to adjust her break times to accommodate in-person classes.
Despite some initial apprehension, she didn’t miss a beat in the classroom.
Having earned her GED diploma in the late 1990s, Orcutt’s biggest fear was that she’d have to learn things her much younger classmates already knew. Turns out, that was never an issue thanks to the “unbelievably helpful” faculty and students. Orcutt learned from her classmates, and they gained valuable knowledge from someone with years of professional experience.
“It was a nice trade-off,” she said.
One thing she didn’t have to worry about is the mandatory internship. That requirement was waived for a UNK employee who’s advanced to supply control supervisor with Central Stores, which handles shipping, receiving and supply distribution on campus and manages the facilities inventory.
Now a college graduate, Orcutt plans to continue working at UNK and “become a partner again” at home. Her husband wants her to pursue a master’s degree, but she needs a little bit of time to catch her breath before making that decision.
“I’ve closed one chapter, but a new one is starting. However, I don’t know what that new one is yet. I have an excitement of the unknown, because I don’t know where I’m going right now,” she said. “I don’t know what doors are going to open, but I’m excited to see what happens.”