Bachelor of General Studies student — and very soon to be graduate — Tanika McRae, has a favorite quote she tries to live by.
"If life knocks you down, try to land on your back. Because if you can look up, you can get up. And if you get up, you can stand up!" said McRae, 45, who will share her experiences with her classmates and their families as the student speaker for the Temple University University College Graduation Ceremony on Friday, May 12. "I began my college journey in 1995, starting right after graduating high school. I had a lot of plans and dreams when I first started college, but life trials put me in many situations where I could not always look up — I couldn't always see if my degree was within reach."
While attending classes full-time, McRae said she was also working full-time at Temple, "raising three children, battling thyroid cancer and other health-related issues, working numerous part-time jobs to make ends meet, and making sure my family was taken care of and I know I am not alone in that."
"A lot of us in the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program are raising families or supporting loved ones. A lot of us work. Many of us have experienced health issues or loss. Life may have knocked us down, but giving up was never an option," she said. "Switching to the Bachelor of General Studies program was one of the best decisions I could have made during my academic career because this degree program allowed me to customize my career path and was flexible with my schedule."
The Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, offered by University College, was developed specifically for adult learners, giving them the perfect opportunity to complete their degree.
"I wasn't familiar with the Bachelor of General Studies program until I spoke to my academic advisor. I learned that the BGS program catered to students like myself — a lot of credits, in and out of school for years, and needing to get that degree.," said McRae, who has been part of the Temple team since 2007 where she began as a receptionist in the International Student and Scholar Services office. She is now an Immigration Services Specialist in International Student and Scholar Services working directly with international students to help them achieve success. "I thought it sounded very much like a path I'd be interested in following, especially with the programing taking an interdisciplinary approach."
The ultimate deciding factor in getting back into the classroom, "was time," McRae said.
"I needed to move ahead with my goals. I wanted to make sure I graduated before any of my children did and one of them is getting ready to finish high school this year! As a first-generation student, I simply wanted to be proud of this accomplishment," said McRae who entered the BGS program having already completed Associate degrees in Elementary Education and Liberal Arts (General) at the Community College of Philadelphia. "Education has always been important to me — it was always important to me to finish my degree and I also plan to get my master's degree. To move forward in my profession will require a master's degree and now I've completed the next step to that goal as well."
According to McRae, BGS advisors worked with her to review all of the credits she had accumulated over the years and map out the courses she would need to complete to cross the finish line.
"The BGS capstones have been particularly helpful, especially the writing component. Honing my writing skills has been a wonderful experience — I've really appreciated the opportunity," she said. "It's a great program to put you on that path to the person that you want to be. It is challenging — I have to have my calendar available all the times to find places to fit in everything; time for work, for school, for my children, for myself. It takes a lot of work, it is challenging, but the outcome is worth it."
McRae said the support of her family has been essential to her in completing her degree.
"I'm the only one in Philadelphia while the rest are in New Jersey about two hours away, but when I need help my mom (Emma McRae) has been great. The support is always there; they have my back. Anything I need for myself and my family, I know I can count on them and when you know you have people that you can rely on, you can get things done," she said. "It's important to me to be a role model to my children. Finishing this degree is important for my career goals as far as moving up within the profession. Having my family there with me when I complete this part of my journey, having my mom there to see this and share this with me, means the world to me."
Serving as the University College Graduation Ceremony speaker, McRae said, "means I can express to my graduating class that no matter how much time has passed, if you are determined and believe in yourself, you will complete your degree."
"Life just takes you on so many turns. You never know where you're going to end up," she said. "My message is pretty much 'just keep on that road.' Stay focused and stay determined and no matter what, what you set out to do will be accomplished. You will do it."
Degree in hand, McRae plans to continue as an essential part of the Temple team in the International Student and Scholar Services office while beginning her next educational goal in fall 2023, a master's degree in Communication Management in the Klein College of Media and Communication.
"I think it's an ideal area for me to get into," she said. "Particularly supporting international students, communication is vital."
McRae said she will also continue to build up the Philadelphia-based non-profit organization that she started in 2017 — Hands Elevated for a Purpose, or HELP.
"It's a community organization designed to provide resources, information, seminars, webinars, career counseling — whatever the population needs," she said. "My intention is to help communities however I can, wherever I can."
Her advice to other adults thinking about returning to the classroom is simple — "Absolutely do it!"
"You are never too old to learn. It is never too late to achieve your goals," she said. "What is life without being able to accomplish certain things that you want to do?"
For more information about the Bachelor of General Studies program and how to apply for admission or reenroll, contact the University College Academic and Student Services team at 215-204-6565 or BGSadmissions@temple.edu.