Monday, December 12, 2011

‘I do not wish you an easy journey’

Gerry Ebalaroza-TunnellOne highlight of Friday night’s pregraduation reception was a speech by WSU Online grad Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell, who kept studying in the face of incredible adversity. Below are excerpts:

For me, it took over 22 years to complete something that I started. My scholastic journey began in 1989 after I joined the Navy. But because of the demands of the military and being a wife and mother of two sons (who are now 25 and 26 years old and here with me tonight) I had an 18-year sabbatical.
     But the thought of completing my degree never faltered and I owe that to my sons. Every time I looked at my boys, I knew I wanted to better myself, not only for me but for them. I thank you Eddie and Ryan for standing next to me and keeping me strong through our own personal challenges. I love you guys!
     Nearly three years ago in January 2009 and during my first semester at WSU, my husband and I were struck by the economic downfall. We were forced to close our business in Bellingham, Wash.; we gave up our home and sold all of our belongings.
     With those changes taking place, I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Despite that discovery, we took what little money we had, purchased a little travel trailer that we hooked up to the back of our truck, loaded up our two dogs, whatever gear we could fit, and left our home, family and friends and traveled the Southwest for four months to try and ride out the recession.
     My first thought was, “Darn it, I just figured out how to conveniently complete my degree from home and now I have to figure out how to do it while on the road?” More...      Well, I did it with the help of my faithful laptop, and a supportive husband who would drive everywhere in search of free Internet so that I could get my assignments in on time.
     We were technically “homeless” and “jobless” at the time but we ensured my aspiration to complete my degree would never cease. We were not going to quit or give up following our dreams because of circumstances.
     After our journey through the mountains, forests and deserts, we returned to Bothell in time to witness the birth of our first grandson, Lyric, and to watch my son, my little boy, bloom from being the first born son in my arms to a father holding his own son. This occurrence took place two days before my 43rd birthday and it was the most transcendent gift that anyone could ask for.
     During this time, Jeremy and I still had not found a place to live. We stayed with friends and started to seek out jobs. I knew that whatever work I found would only be temporary. My career would not begin until after I was done with school.
     In August 2009, calamity struck my family once again.
     My youngest son, Ryan, was convicted of a crime that would incarcerate him for a year. For a mother, the most difficult thing to endure besides the death of her child is watching him get taken away in chains.
     I spent the rest of my weekends for the next 12 months visiting my son and encouraging him to stand above his affliction. I needed him to know that he had control over his destiny and he must believe that although he would be judged for his choices, he could still rise above it all.
     One week ago, Ryan received a letter congratulating him that he was just accepted into the bachelor’s program in graphic design at the Seattle Art Institute. I am so proud of the man he is becoming.
     My family and I definitely endured some crazy challenges in this past couple of years. Last October, my house flooded and we lived in chaos for five months as our floors were torn up.
     In the midst of that chaos, exactly one year ago tonight, I received a call from my sister Michelle, who is with me tonight, that our mother was critically ill and admitted into the hospital. My oldest sister and I immediately flew out to Hawaii to be by our mother’s side.
     While holding myself together with every prayer and every drop of hope that I could summon, my siblings and other family members sat with our mother until she passed away two days later, on December 11, 2010.
     It is ironic on how a memory can flood back into your mind and place you inches from the time that memory was created. Even though it’s been a year, it seems yesterday. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my family the night before she passed and I was on my computer finishing up one of my final papers in sociology. That night I wrote a paper about my mom, probably one of my best.
     She was so proud of her children and worked so hard to ensure that we had all the opportunities that she never had.
     My family and I faced our latest challenge and probably not the last this past April. I found myself debilitated and constantly lethargic. My right kidney was now in complete atrophy. It was slowly killing me and had to be removed.
     I’m healing just fine and I do not need to go through dialysis. I have to say, thank goodness for Wi-Fi in hospitals because I was able to still complete my assignments and meet the midnight deadline. I told you, I was not going to let circumstances stop me!
     As I share my story with you tonight, it is apparent that the challenges—or what I see as opportunities to change—will continue. Change is the only constant, it is where growth lies and new miracles begin. I have learned to not fear change, but to embrace it. Sir Edmund Hilary once said that “It’s not the mountain that we conquer, it’s ourselves.”
     I would like to reiterate that despite any mountain that I needed to climb, I did not, and could not, have done it alone. Without the support of my family and friends, my faithful computer, the advantages of Wi-Fi, our virtual mentors, advisor and understanding professors, I would not have been able to successfully complete my degree and be standing here with you tonight.
     As I conclude my speech, I want you to know that I do not wish you an easy journey, because—trust me—you would become quickly bored by it.
     Instead, I wish you a path that overflows with obstacles to overcome and uncertainties that will force you to question and seek answers not outside of yourself, but within your heart.
     I wish you plenty of time to be alone to listen to that inside voice, and then lots of time to be with others to share your insight and take what you have learned in your solitude and apply it to the world in the most compassionate way.
     I hope that your path has as many twists and turns as it does straightaways. I hope that it is as rough and interesting as it is smooth and predictable.
     I hope that life satisfies you and I also hope that it astonishes you. I hope that for all your life, your spirit continues to grow.
     Congratulations to us, the 2011 graduates of Washington State University’s Online Degree Program and thank you everyone who’s been there supporting us every step of the way.

For the full text of Gerry's speech, select this link.


  1. Gerry, you are an AMAZING woman and your strength, determination and grace throughout adversity are inspiring and encouraging! My path has been similar to yours--I have experienced many of the same obstacles but like you, I refuse to give up! Congratulations on your degree!!!

  2. How did you know I needed your encouragement right now? Thank you for sharing... I will be re-reading this for the next several days... God bless you!

  3. Thank you Gerry for never give up. Your story is such encouragement. God bless

  4. Thank you so much for sharing such an inspiring story. You are an incredible woman and I believe that your ability to continue on in the midst of adversity is a definite display of your strength and courage. I applaud you.

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing your story Gerry! You are truly inspiring! I have had that experience of traveling with my laptop looking for wi-fi to complete my homework, but that was only because I was traveling. I can't imagine surviving in your circumstances, but I know that the fact that you did it will help out all the others who are struggling at this moment!