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The story of Navy veteran Maggie Gifaldi’s quest to complete a college degree calls to mind the lyrics once penned by Beatle John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The death of a loved one, relocation, giving birth to four children—these and other events intervened.

In 2004, after serving for six years as a Hebrew linguist, Gifaldi left the service. She and her husband sold their home. Then the young family moved to Michigan—and in with her parents—to help her father provide her mother with the 24-hour care that she needed as the result of a brain tumor that rendered her unable to walk or speak.

“I would stay at home during the day with my young children and my mom, while my dad was at work and my husband went to school full-time for his Engineering Degree. It was a really tough time,” she said.

Still, Gifaldi added, though they were confined to the house and unable to plan play dates and other socializing activities “like normal young families” do, they were fortunate to care for her mother at home for four years before she passed away.

Afterward, the Gifaldi’s moved to Germany where her husband got a job with the Army Corps of Engineers. “We have been in Germany for almost seven years now and have four kids, ages six to 14.” And as with most parents juggling coursework and family responsibilities, she said, it’s been tough going to school full-time and being a mom full-time.

“When I first started going back to school, our schedule changed a bit and I had to study on the weekend—or cram during the week to have the weekend free for the family. It was a tough adjustment for me because I didn't want to miss that time with the kids.”

Then, one day, her oldest son told her that he was glad she was going back to school. “He said, ‘Mom, as long as I get a hug when I leave for school in the morning and when I get home, I don't care that you're busy with school.’"  So, every day while working on her degree, Gifaldi made sure that there were hugs all around in the morning and again when her children returned home in the afternoon.

“My graduation and journey to get my degree was definitely a big family event, and everyone helped around the house,” she said. “They have all supported me through this journey and I am so grateful for them.”

Grateful, she said, and “proud to get my degree from UMUC, because I had classes with some amazing teachers and bright students.  And I am proud to have shown my kids that education is important, no matter how long you have to wait to get it done—and that working at things together makes it so much easier,” Gifaldi added.