Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Collaboration with a Purpose: Graduate School and One Step Toward the Impossible…

with 26 comments

Today’s theme for the group of bloggers I’m a part of known as Collaboration with a Purpose is “One Step Toward the Impossible.” And as such, I wracked my brains trying to find a topic.



Well, I actually had so many different ideas, I didn’t know which one to pick. (And yes, sometimes too many ideas is as much of a problem as too few.)

The three ideas were:

  1. My lengthy journey to get into graduate school
  2. The journey I’ve been forced to endure as a widow toward building a better and more fulfilling life
  3. The overall journey every person has in attempting to find himself/herself in a culture where many superficial things are celebrated to the detriment of what is true and real

So, what did I finally decide?

I thought discussing my journey to get into graduate school might be interesting. So, without further ado…

Graduate school was definitely a journey that started with a hesitant, single step. I remember going back to finish my Bachelor’s as a slightly older than average student, and telling my advisors that I wanted to go to grad school. That I’d always wanted to go. And what did I need to do so I could?

It turned out that first, I needed to clear up some old debts, so I could get my transcripts released from my undergrad work at another college. I needed to do this first, because until I did, I could not graduate with my Bachelor’s, much less aspire to anything else.

This seemed utterly impossible. First, I was flat broke. Second, I was getting a divorce. Third, I had so many bills that I didn’t have any idea how I was even going to live from day to day, much less anything else.

But I persevered. I took a single step of going back to school, first, even though I couldn’t officially become a degree-seeking student until I had fixed a certain amount of debt. Then, I took another step, and took lessons from probably my favorite overall clarinet and sax teacher, Tim Bell, one of the most encouraging and helpful people I’ve ever run across. Third, I took another single step by working on my music composition with Mark Eichner (who’s now my conductor in the Racine Concert Band)…I didn’t know how anything was going to shake out, but I was at least willing to try to put myself in a position to make it happen.

Then, one night, my mother and I were out at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We liked to go watch the dogs run, and yes, we bet small amounts of money on them, too.

That night, I bet $2 on a superfecta — meaning I had to get four dogs in some sort of order — and my superfecta was what they call a “partial wheel,” meaning I had picked two of the dogs to finish in a particular order, but the other two could come in elsewise. (I know this is not an accurate description, but bogging down this blog with how to work a partial wheel on a superfecta is not my idea of a good time. All apologies if this disappoints you.) And at first, I thought I’d lost.

My Mom checked my ticket, and said, “But Barb, you’ve got the winning combo. At least go up and check the ticket.”

I did, hoping like fire that I did have it. Because the winning ticket paid enough for me to fix the transcript issue, and become a degree-seeking student…

Yes, I had the winner.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out I did have it, mind, ’cause I had been working hard toward this particular end for nearly a year by this time. I was upset  earlier that day, I remember, because of the divorce proceedings, and I’d needed distraction — thus the dog track.

Mom and I had other bills to pay, mind, but I knew that if I didn’t pay this particular bill now, I was likely to not ever get another chance. So, I paid the bill, got my transcripts released, became an official, degree-seeking student, and then asked what else I could do to make things easier on me to getting my degree. (I had to do my last thirty credits in residence at Parkside, mind, and the twelve credits I could take as a non-degree seeking student were already in the can. That means I had eighteen credits yet to go.)

My advisors, Tim Bell and Mark Eichner, told me to try out for a music scholarship.

I did, and I won the best one they had, which knocked half off my tuition. The rest, I’d have to pay in installments, as I was out of financial aid…but I was working full-time as a cashier and stocker, so I vowed to do just that.

While it took me a bit of extra time to make those three payments, I managed it. But then, I had some health issues, and had to take an incomplete in my favorite class of my final semester: United States History, senior-level. (Did I mention yet that I have the equivalents of minors in history and English? No? Oops…) I had to write a couple of papers to finish that up, and I had until the following May to get that in, or my grade — which had been an A before the incomplete had to be taken — would turn into an F.

I wasn’t about to let this stop me, either. So I wrote the papers. Did all the research. Turned them in, and got complimented by my history professor for doing so much work as he’d expected four or five-page papers, not twenty-five to thirty page papers.

(Am I an overachiever? Well, yeah…)

So, my degree requirements had been completed. I had my BA in Music. And I started looking around for grad schools.

I did a couple of auditions in the next few months, helped along by my family — without them, I’d not have been able to get there, as the money was definitely not there for me to travel. (And really, you have to do auditions in person if you want to be a music performance major. A tape only gets you in the door. I am reasonably sure it’s still the same way, because a tape can be altered; performance, in person, can’t be faked.) And I settled on a school, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, because I liked the saxophone teacher, Robert Fought, and believed he’d be able to teach me a great deal. (He did, too, down the line. Good teacher, Dr. Fought.)

At this point, I was offered a full-tuition scholarship and a job as a graduate teaching assistant, meaning I’d be paid a small stipend. The two were a package deal, and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

But then, life threw me another curveball. As I was readying myself to go to graduate school, I injured my back at work. And this was no minor injury, either; somehow, I pulled nearly every single muscle in my back, and was off work for nearly three months.

By the time I was able to get around again, the first semester (fall) had started at Nebraska. I didn’t know if they’d hold my TAship until the spring or not, but I told Dr. Fought I really did want to go to Nebraska and learn from him.

A number of other difficult things happened, but finally, I managed to get to Nebraska and start my graduate school education.

Note that this journey, which had once seemed impossible, started with a single step. It took nearly four years of hard work, a couple of good breaks I immediately took advantage of, and overcoming at least five bad breaks in the process. But I got it done.

This, to my mind, is what this theme is all about. So I hope my journey will help you all realize that if you set your mind to it, and you do not waver, and you give it your best effort, you, too, can do whatever you put your mind to.

I firmly believe that.

Now, go check out my fellow bloggers and their takes on the subject (the quotes are from some of their best lines, as summarized by the inestimable Nicolle of Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert):


  • Addison D’Marko (“If you want to achieve complete happiness one of the things you are going to have to do is care less. By this I mean stop putting so much thought into the things that do not matter.”)
  • Ajibola Sunday @ Inspirational Motivation (“The true definition of success is being happy and living up to your potentials.”)
  • Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go (“We want to be help to the helpless. We all need love and support and I pray this community will be that for you.”)
  • Divyang Shah @ i think my way (“If someone don’t speak much, don’t interpret as a dumb, their mind must be working on something very big or may be he is a writer and observing surrounding on which he would come with some deep write-ups.”)
  • Jothish Joseph @ TheJothishJosephBlog (“Anybody can write “Extra” before “ordinary” but only people of courage dare to earn it…”)
  • Ipuna Black (“None of us are perfect or come from perfect backgrounds, but this doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a positive and fulfilling life. The life we all deserve.”)
  • Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy (“People who have a genuine say and a true voice of their own… not just an echo of some celebrity they think they love.”)
  • Manal Ahmad a.k.a. iamthatgirl @ Sensible Nonsense (“Who says oblivion happens to all of us? A single act of kindness makes sure you live on in somebody’s heart.”)
  • Mylene C. Orillo (“Where I’m at right now is a testament that ‘Dreams really do come true.’”)
  • Sadaf Siddiqi (“The best thing about memories, is one doesn’t realise they are making memories but once recorded, it just rewinds and takes one back to the beautiful series of life.”)
  • Sonyo Estavillo @ ‘Lil Pick Me Up (“I am here to champion anyone from the successful and confident folks, to those that are clinically depressed.”)
  • Tajwar Fatma @ LifeAsWeHaveNeverKnownIt (“When life hits you hard, hit back harder!”)
  • And of course Nicolle K @ Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert! (“Success, for me, is when I spend my days feeling happy, peaceful, fulfilled and without fear of lack. 😊”)

Any questions? Tell me about ’em in the comments!


Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm

26 Responses

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  1. What an amazing post about a real life events and experiences. I give great commendation for your courage and for the job well done to get in your graduate school. I really appreciate your efforts in sharing this, stay blessed and keep up the good work. I wish you all the best.


    August 5, 2017 at 2:23 am

    • Thanks, Ajibola! I appreciate your kind words. 🙂

      I figured this was the easiest of the three subjects I came up with to write about…though once I started, it was hard to shut up. 😉

      Barb Caffrey

      August 5, 2017 at 2:39 am

      • Haha it’s always like that when you’re scribing your thoughts on real events. It’s good as you let it out anyway and it will serve its purpose by motivating others who get to read it. Have a great weekend Barb. 😉👍


        August 5, 2017 at 3:40 am

      • You, too. 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        August 5, 2017 at 7:02 pm

  2. Thanks for sharing your graduate school story! I think it’s amazing how hard you worked to pay for it and even got a music scholarship. You’re such an inspiration. ❤️


    August 5, 2017 at 4:48 am

  3. […] Barb Caffrey […]

  4. Your graduate school story is so captivating. It was tough but you did it with your hard work. A degree in music is something unique. A motivational post.

    Author: Sadaf Siddiqi.

    August 5, 2017 at 6:00 am

  5. […] Barb Caffrey: Graduate School and One Step Toward the Impossible […]

  6. […] Barb Caffrey @ Barb Caffrey’s Blog: Graduate School and One Step Towards the Impossible […]

  7. […] 1. Barb Caffrey’s Post. […]

  8. […] Camilla Motte, Jothish Joseph, Ajibola Sunday, Ipuna Black, Sadaf Siddiqi, Addison D’Marko, Barb Caffrey, Tajwar Fatma, Sonyo Estavillo, Divyang Shah, and yours truly, Mylene […]

  9. […] Barb Caffrey @ Barb Caffrey’s Blog: Graduate School and One Step Towards the Impossible […]

  10. Awesome testimony. I’m glad you persevered in spite of all of the obstacles. #keepwriting


    August 5, 2017 at 3:20 pm

  11. Graduate school is no easy task and also dealing with a competitive, yet creative field such as music. I’m also a fellow creative so I understand that it can be daunting. You did it though, you got in and you’re taking it one step at a time.

    Sonyo Estavillo

    August 5, 2017 at 10:26 pm

  12. Amazing story. Yes it was a tough journey but can you even bear to think of the possible outcome of you refusing to take that first step you did? The only challenge of achieving ANY goal is having the confidence to take the first step despite odds.
    Thanks for sharing!


    August 6, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    • That is very true, Jainey.

      I don’t like to think about what the alternative would’ve been, to be honest. Having a goal was very important to me as I divorced. And had I not gotten that divorce, I would’ve never found my amazing husband Michael later on…

      Barb Caffrey

      August 6, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      • 😍😍 True. True. Very true. 😍😍


        August 6, 2017 at 3:41 pm

  13. Your story is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing. I think it’s easier to move forward when you’re moving towards something. You did just that. Xx


    August 7, 2017 at 10:32 pm

  14. […] Addison D’Marko Ajibola Sunday @ Inspirational Motivation Barb Caffrey @ Barb Caffrey’s Blog Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go Divyang Shah – I think my way Ipuna Black Jothish Joseph @ […]

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