SUNBURY — The first two students to graduate with associate degrees from the Sunbury branch of Lackawanna College met for the first time Wednesday afternoon and instantaneously felt a kinship born out of their hard work for the past two years.
"The last day that I had to come in for a final," said Lacey Carnahan, 25, of Mifflinburg, "I asked who else was graduating? And I was told it was me and one other person I'd never met." Carnahan graduated with a degree in business.
"We're going down in history as the first," said Sheena Herb, 30, of Sunbury, laughing. Herb earned a degree in human services.
Carnahan and Herb agreed that the convenient location of the school was a major factor in their decision to pursue a degree.
"I didn't know this school branch existed," Carnahan said. "It took an online posting about it by my mother-in-law to find out."
It was the convenience that convinced her to come back to school, she said. "My child was almost a year old. And my husband was starting a new business."
Carnahan said she "originally was going for a degree in early childhood education. Then, I stopped going because of financial issues. It just wasn't the right time. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life."
Carnahan came into the college, talked to Sunbury branch director Phil Campbell, and he convinced her that she could do it.
Two years ago, she went back to school looking to earn a business administration degree. "My then fiance owned a business, he was starting out. I did the office part of the business."
Carnahan said her course work "definitely helped with our business. We have doubled our profit over the last year. The amount of work we have been getting, I've charted everything and keeping up with the paperwork. It has been incredible how much all that information and knowledge helps."
Carnahan scheduled day classes. Her first semester was all online classes and then she moved to a schedule of classes three days a week. "I couldn't have done this any other way," she said.
Herb was focused on what she was going to do from the get-go, she said.
"I had a family, so I had to put things on hold," she said. "But I always was going for a degree in human services. When this branch opened the convenience was just awesome."
Herb has worked with United Cerebral Palsy for nine years, and was recently promoted to a higher position. "They gave me that promotion knowing that I was in school and about to graduate," she said.
She is currently in the job she wanted with her degree. "Hopefully, I'll move up in the organization someday," Herb said.
Herb is unsure if she wants to continue with her education, she said. "But if I do, it won't be for a while. It's a large expense, plus having just bought a home. Look, I have time to make that decision."
Herb said that she has taken night courses through her time at Lackawanna. "I always took 15 to 18 credits a semester. That helped to get done a little sooner. It took a lot of juggle everything and it worked though. The convenience of this location and online courses was very key to my getting this done.
"I think for this town, we needed Lackawanna College," she said. "We really needed it."
Now that Carnahan has earned a degree, she said, "I want to work on my family, grow our business. Maybe someday when the kids are older I'll pursue a higher degree."
This school has given Carnahan and Herb solid foundations for their work futures.
"Looking back, it sometimes seems that I didn't learn that much," Lacey said, "but then I look back at who I was at the beginning, compared to who I am now, and I am entirely different. The amount of knowledge they have given me to help me grow our business is incredible."
The students said they were tremendously relieved now that they're done.
"Sometimes I don't know what to do with my time." Herb said.
"I'll panic when I find myself with free time, thinking what my next assignment might be," Carnahan added, laughing.
Carnahan and Herb wanted to shout out about their teachers. The staff was very hands on, they agreed.
"They push us," Herb said. "They want us to succeed. They become almost like a second family."
"It's such a small campus," Carnahan said. "Teachers helped me grow not just in the sense of knowledge but grow as a person."