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18 years of determination: Jones juggled work, family, cancer to earn diploma
Alison Sievers
Photo by Alison Sievers
Diana Jones, a senior organizational communications major from Kearney, sits at her desk in the registrar's office. Jones is graduating this semester after spending 18 years going to school while working full time in the registrar's office, raising three children and battling breast cancer.

Diana Jones has juggled with both hands over nearly two decades to be among those getting diplomas this month.

She works full time at the university. She sits at a desk in the far right hand corner of the registrar’s office. Her job is to put together the class schedule that comes out every semester, and she loves it because she gets to communicate with instructors and students.

She also has raised three children who have successfully graduated from UNK.

And, on top of it all, she’s a breast cancer survivor.

Friday she’ll be graduating with a degree in organizational communications after taking classes for 18 years.

What kept her motivated? “Well, I kind of have this internal desire to learn. And it kind of started out as a hobby. I just sort of wanted to take some classes to broaden my horizons and my knowledge base a little bit. And then when I saw it was really possible to go ahead and finish the degree, it kind of got to be a challenge. And I don’t back down from things very easily.”

Jones managed to get all 125 credit hours required for a degree taking 3-6 credit hours a semester, all during her lunch hour and by attending night classes. If there happened to be a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the day, she would delay her lunch and use 15 minutes of her vacation time each day, since the classes exceeded an hour.

Jones didn’t go to school after high school simply because it wasn’t expected of her. Neither of her parents went to college, so right out of high school she got a job as a legal secretary. "It was fun for awhile, there’s something kind of prestigious about being a legal secretary, but eventually I wanted more."

To inspire her children to go to school, she was simply honest with them.

"My famous line to them was, ‘Go to school now. Get your education, so you can get the job that you want. Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until after you’re married, and after you have a family and you have responsibilities and then decide that you want your education. Because that’s not easy, and that’s not how you want to do it. Reap that benefit early on in your life. Don’t make that mistake. You see how hard I have to work. You see how hard it is for me to study. Just don’t make my mistake. Go get your education now.’"

Her warnings were clearly effective since her son Kris, 28, graduated with a degree in construction management in December 2006; her daughter Stefanie, 26, graduated with a radiography degree in May 2006; and her youngest, Luke, 24, graduated with a degree in exercise science and health science in May 2010.

In November of 1999, Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she was in a difficult computer class– BMIS 181. Two other older women, Maggie Alt and Deb Olson, were classmates, and the three quickly became study partners. When Jones was diagnosed, the two women helped her. She started to fall behind, but with their support and encouragement she went on to finish the class.

Jones took the semester of spring 2000 off to battle the cancer.

That was about the time her son was graduating from high school. Maggie Alt went so far as to help Jones’ son apply for financial aid. Jones said, "She let me know when the ACT exams were, delivered materials to Education Quest for his financial aid and checked in on me at work regularly. She was a real cheerleader, and I had only met her in class that semester before all of this happened. Maggie and I remain friends."

Jones has motivation for others who may be hesitant. "Do it. Jump in with both feet: take a class, get started."

Jones advised finding something you’re interested in and not worrying about program requirements at first. Find something that you enjoy, maybe a general studies class, she said. Do what you’re interested in and don’t worry about program requirements right off the bat.

"Get started, and ease yourself into it," she said. "And eventually get to a point where you can take six hours. Try not to focus on how long it’s going to take you, because it does take a long time.

"I would encourage anyone to get your education. I think that was a mistake I made. And I feel so lucky that I get to rectify that."

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