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NATCHITOCHES, LA. — Ashley Leurs received a special gift recently — one she worked 10 years to earn.
Leurs, 35, crossed the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern State University on May 9 after a decade of classes, three universities, countless moves, four births and her husband’s three deployments. She was one of 806 students awarded degrees this spring at Northwestern State.
A veteran of the Navy and now an Army wife, Leurs began her educational career in 2004. She took classes through the University of Maryland while her family was stationed in Germany.
The New Orleans native transitioned to other schools when they moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Fort Hood, Texas, where she, her husband and children live now. She connected with Northwestern State through its satellite campus while at Fort Polk, starting classes in 2009.
She completed her bachelor’s in general studies with a concentration in social sciences through the university’s online program from Killeen, Texas. Commencement was her second time to step foot on the Natchitoches campus.
Her husband, Jack, is in training in Wisconsin this month and wasn’t able to attend graduation, but she still had a cheering section in Prather Coliseum.
“I’m just overwhelmed and so very proud of her,” said her mother, Sue Dick. “It’s been a long road.”
A large portion of that cheering section comprised Leur’s six children ages 2 through 12.
When she started school she and Jack had two kids. With a growing family, several moves and Jack’s three tours in Iraq, Leurs had her share of challenges in completing her degree. The biggest one was finding the time.
“Time is the hardest thing, trying to balance time, especially with him being gone,” she said.
But she never really thought about quitting, she said. She was driven to finish for herself and for her family.
“Finishing (is the best part) — finishing to show the kids,” Leurs said. “They need to know ...you can’t give up.”
The lesson isn’t lost on them.
“I think this is really awesome for her,” said her oldest, Madison, 12. “I’m very proud of her. She worked very hard, and now she’s here.”
Christian, 11, understood how much graduation meant to his mom.
“I think it’s a really big accomplishment,” he said. “I never would be able to do it — six kids (and school).”
She also learned a lot from navigating online classes. She said communication could be an issue, depending on the professors and where they might be located, emphasizing a need for self-discipline and persistence.
“You have to be able to navigate and teach yourself,” Leurs said. “That’s challenging and rewarding. But it’s good for when you go into a job. If something seems impossible, you just have to figure it out.”
Leurs, a teacher’s aide at a Killeen elementary school, isn’t done with school just yet.
She’ll start a teacher certification program in Texas this summer and hopes to teach elementary school for a few years before pursuing a master’s degree in counseling.