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Celebrating the Class of 2015: Tycen Johnson

A long, round-about journey to graduation, but worth the perseverance

Monday Apr 13, 2015

Tycen Johnson, 39, of Grand Rapids, Mich., graduates this May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Services Management.

The Gary native has spent the past two semesters commuting 2-1/2 hours one-way to Indiana University Northwest twice a week so that he could finish his degree after moving to the Great Lake State last August. Johnson’s full load of courses in his final semester consisted of a mix of online courses from both IU Northwest and IU Southeast along with three physical classes.

Determined to finish his degree, Johnson took many long and round-about roads on the way to the Commencement stage. He is proud to have arrived at his destination, which all-in-all, took a total of 18 years to complete -- from IU Bloomington to a community college in Maryland to IU Northwest -- with a few long breaks in between working in the restaurant management industry.

Johnson’s journey started with a love of music and a dream to share his passion by teaching music to others. Playing a host of instruments, from woodwinds to piano and guitar, Johnson spent lots of time at band camps and playing in community bands in high school and beyond. After graduating from Lew Wallace High School in 1994, he enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington to pursue a career in music education.

But after two semesters, the circumstances of his life forced him to leave school and enter the workforce. Soon after, he relocated to Maryland.

“I wasn’t planning on returning to college, not to IU,” he said. “I had moved on. I had plans to get a college degree at some point but I was starting my life over on the East Coast.”

After two years at a community college in Maryland, where he had picked up his dream of music education once again, it was time to transfer to a four-year university. But with a sick mother back in his hometown of Gary, Johnson needed to move back home to care for her instead.

Despite this setback, Johnson still wanted to earn his college degree, so he headed to IU Northwest.

“I really had to think about what I was going to do,” Johnson said. “I started with General Studies classes and tried to figure out where I wanted to go because IU Northwest does not offer (music education). I had to stop with that educational path.”

His investigation led him to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where he discovered he could pursue a degree in Health Services Management. Having worked in the restaurant management industry, Johnson supposed that management in healthcare would be comparable and that he could apply his management skills in another industry.

Johnson, who holds a full-time restaurant management job in Michigan in addition to his full course load, already has two promising post-graduation jobs in the offing.

He can either move up in his company, perhaps as a compliance manager, because what he’s learned about regulations in healthcare can be applied to the restaurant industry, or he can work for a skilled nursing facility, an offer already on the table thanks to a family member in California.

Despite having to give up his original musical ambitions, Johnson says he has no regrets.

Even though he had been successful making a living without a college degree, he values his education greatly. Thanks to the experiences he’s had, the discussions he’s had with professors that challenged his thinking, he has gained a plethora of benefits that he never would have acquired otherwise.

“Reflecting back on the whole situation and the education part of it,” Johnson explains, “that is something you can’t take away.”

Asked to impart some advice to other students, Johnson says simply, “persevere.”

“Don’t give up, because you never know what will happen at the end,” Johnson said. “I’m glad to start and end my college experience with Indiana University,” Johnson said.

About the Class of 2015: Indiana University Northwest will confer 790 degrees at the 49th Annual Commencement ceremonies on May 14, 2015. The Class of 2015 will collectively receive 75 associate’s degrees, 609 bachelor’s degrees and 106 master’s degrees. Seventy-three percent of this year’s graduating class are women; nearly 40 percent are underrepresented students.

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