February 24, 2017
Monday, 23 April 1984 – 8:09 p.m.
I sit here not knowing where to start. This morning at 3:26 a.m. the person that I loved more than anyone else in this entire world died. I feel so empty. This can’t be for real. I keep waiting for him to walk in from work, or to call and say he’s running late, but that hasn’t happened.
As I sit here, tears are streaming down my face, and my heart is so empty. How I miss him. I cry and cry and he still doesn’t come home.
I never knew I loved him so much.
Susan’s 26-year-old shaking hands prevent her from typing another word. She forcefully runs her hands through her blonde hair, then abruptly leans down so her elbows hit her desk. The keys on the typewriter are just inches from her face, and she can see her tears drop against the letters. She takes a deep breath, and tries to take everything in.
A few weeks earlier, she and her husband, Ed, adopted a baby boy and girl from Korea, and brought them home to Maryland with the perception that they would be raised by two parents. Now they only had one. She was a single mother of twins with a few credits from LDS Business College.
To many, the situation seemed hopeless. To Susan, she felt more motivated than ever to provide her children the resources and education she never had.
It’s difficult to tell your children to do something that you haven’t done yourself.
“I felt — more than you can ever imagine — a significant responsibility to the birth mother of those kids,” said Susan. “I owed her to raise them right, and I owed God for giving them to me. But it’s difficult to tell your children to do something that you haven’t done yourself, especially something that’s as life-changing as an education.”
For years, one thought motivated Susan through the hardest chapters of her life
Continuing her schooling was always Susan Brionez’s plan, but now she had to be a mother. Heartbroken and distraught from her husband’s death, she wiped her tears away and immediately became an example of hard work and diligence for her twins.
She began to live by the sweat of her brow. When she wasn’t working at her full-time job, she would go around her neighborhood and offer lawn services to her neighbors for some extra cash. She had the example of her mother, Bernice, who worked three waitressing jobs when Susan was a child in order to afford groceries.
Members of Susan’s ward family gave hours of their time to help take care of her children while she scrounged for money, never asking for a dime in return. Her identity became “the twin’s mother,” and she loved it, because she felt like a mom that shared a special bond with her kids, and she was just “along for the ride” with them. Even through the hard times, the knowledge that she was a mother made her feel at peace.
“I couldn’t continue to be angry after my husband died because I had children who depended solely on me for their care. They were the blessing I needed at that time because without them, I think I would’ve been an even more sad and angry person. They made life bearable for me.”
30 years later, Susan’s dream never left her mind
A few years later, Susan married her current husband, Cisco, and had two more children. By this point, the days of crying herself to sleep and worrying about how she would put food on the table were long gone.
She felt happy, but the opportunity to receive an education seemed to be slipping through her fingers. Many of the jobs she wanted required a degree for her to be considered as an applicant. Susan felt glued in her position and restrained from her full potential.
“When I worked at an elementary school, I couldn’t be a teacher’s assistant or even work in the classroom because I had to have an associates degree. I felt stuck.”
In 2005, she happily accepted a job working as an assistant to the undergraduate dean at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She loved her job and did very well at it, but still felt somewhat bittersweet to watch students walk across the stage to receive their diploma each semester while her hands remained empty.
Her dream began to be fulfilled in a way she never thought was possible
While sitting in stake conference one Sunday, her stake president made an announcement about a new college online program called PathwayConnect. Susan listened intently — her heart filled with the Spirit and arms covered in goosebumps. Stake conference couldn’t end early enough for her to rush home, jump on the computer, and apply.
After 30 persevering years of double diaper changes, grave-site visits, temple sessions, children’s high school graduations, intermittent college classes, and sporadic job opportunities, Susan had finally found what she was looking for.
PathwayConnect was unlike any other college program she had ever participated in. The instructors were especially patient, supportive, and willing to help. She felt pleased to see that her classmates “had the same dream” as her, and were actively involved in discussions during weekly gatherings.
Susan took her schooling very seriously. She worked full-time at George Mason University and ran a small business from home selling infant car seat canopies and pendant banners. With such an active family life, it would be easy for PathwayConnect assignments to take a backseat. Impressively, they didn’t.
My classmates had the same dream as me.
“At work, I would take my lunch hour, go into a conference room where there’s a computer, and get an hour’s worth of homework done most every day. That saved me an hour each day when I came home at night that I didn’t have to spend on homework. I could be with my husband instead.”
Susan realizes why she needs to complete her education
No matter what trials came Susan’s way, even without a degree, she persevered through them with vigor and strength. Luckily, PathwayConnect was “the right program at the right time” for her.
Getting my degree will fulfill my personal goal. I CAN achieve it.
Now, she’s pursuing her education online through BYU-Idaho. At 60 years old, she has an immense drive for education that isn’t slowing down. For Susan, earning a degree is not about setting an example or increasing career prospects anymore. It is for her.
“Getting my degree will fulfill my personal goal. I can achieve it. There’s nothing keeping me from doing it. I look forward to the day when my four college-educated children and husband can accompany me to Rexburg as I dance across the stage at graduation, donning my cap and gown.”
Susan is working to receive her degree in university studies and graduate in April 2018, when her family will proudly sit in the audience in the BYU-Idaho Center to watch their mother, wife, and hero fulfill her lifelong and well-deserved dream.
“… peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
Finish your college education by enrolling in PathwayConnect at BYU-Pathway Worldwide.