Thursday, January 10, 2013

Online grad becomes part of the pride

kara kadow shopping cropShe takes a license plate frame off the rack. “Cougars,” it says. She puts it back. Then she finds the one she wants—the one she has wanted since 2009. The word is deeply engraved: “Alumni.”
     Kara Kadow, 33, adds the frame to a teetering armful of merchandise: WSU T-shirts, cap, kara mirror horizontalcalendar, banner, coffee mug. She flashes what her mother calls her “cheerleader smile,” a bright reminder of her high-school days. She remembers she can get a discount with her new alumni card. She pulls it out of her purse, presents it to the Bookie cashier, and now it’s true, now it’s official. She’s a card-carrying member of the Cougar Nation.
     It’s Kara’s first visit to the Pullman campus. The WSU Online student has brought her entire family from Yorba Linda, Calif., to watch her graduate the next day with her social sciences degree.
     “A lot of people were surprised I was coming,” Kara says. “But I didn’t want to do this by mail. I wanted to be here.”

Feeling the spirit
     Kara’s school spirit goes back to her pompon days. It’s why she wears Cougar clothes to her job as a conference manager, and why she decorates her cubicle in WSU merchandise. It’s a big reason why she chose WSU when she decided to return to college after a nine-year break for marriage and work.
     “I was looking for that sense of connection,” she says. “I wanted a school I’d be proud to be part of. And I wanted to know that I’d be an alumni of a really great school.” More...      She searched the Internet. WSU Online’s website “reached out and grabbed me,” she says. “There was a school spirit that I could feel online.”
     There was also the tug of ancestry. Her great-grandfather homesteaded along the Columbia River. Her grandfather Richard E. Kadow was a pioneer in artificial insemination of cattle. Her great-uncle Earl Kadow was a longtime farmer, and president of the Clark County Fair, where he has a display named in his honor. Another relative Beulah “Boots” Kadow ran the coffee truck at the Port of Vancouver for nearly 20 years. And her cousins own Kadow Marina in Vancouver, where a scene from Twilight was filmed.

‘This is my village’
     “I decided to give the program a try for a year, and ended up staying for all three,” Kara says. The school pride was “infectious,” the online classroom was stimulating—“I felt like I had more learning tools than if I had been in a classroom with a book”—and her family’s support was unwavering.
     “It takes a village,” she says. “This is my village.” She gestures at her entourage: Mother, father, son, sister, niece, and boyfriend. Her village provided child care and proof-reading and lots of encouragement.
     “My bucket list is that both my daughters get their degrees,” says her father, Mike Kadow. “That’s how our family was raised. Education is the most important thing you can do.”
     Her 4-year-old son, Alex, also helped her stay motivated.
     “When he’s 18, I want to be able to say that Mom has a degree so he should continue his education,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to throw it in his face—‘I was a single mom and I worked full time and walked up the hill in snow’—but I want to show him that I did it.”

Ants can be a hazard
     Snow would be a hard sell in Yorba Linda but Alex has already been exposed to other rigors of higher education. “We went up to the volcanic area for Geology 210,” Kara says. “Alex was bitten by red ants, so now he’s traumatized.”
     Luckily, Kara had her “mommy spray” (ant spray) handy, and Alex’s trauma seems to have eased as he plays with his 5-year-old cousin, Bella, among the racks of Cougar clothing.
     After the Bookie, Kara and her family will tour campus, and attend an evening reception for WSU Online graduates in Lewis Alumni Centre. But there’s still one thing she needs to purchase, something she can’t get at the Bookie.
     “I want to buy one of those very expensive frames for my diploma,” she says. “I want to display it proudly.”

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