As hundreds of Mount Saint Mary College grads crossed the stage at Commencement on Saturday, May 21, one was recognized for her achievements as she watched from nearly 7,000 miles away.
Sr. Maria Judith Okwudiri Okoroafor, of the Order of Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary in Nigeria, graduated via livestream after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology online. It was a journey she began nearly 14 years ago.
Sr. Judith’s college career started like most others: in person. After coming to the United States in 2008 for religious experience, she used the opportunity to attend classes at the Mount from Fall 2009 to Spring 2012.
“It was not planned for me to graduate from MSMC,” she explained. “So, I came back to Nigeria and I never thought of coming back to complete the degree.”
It wasn’t until 2020 that the General Superior of her religious order, Sr. Gertrude L. Ihenach, and her council asked her to go back to the USA and finish her degree. However, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic halted the process, as her visa was unable to be processed. After speaking to Andrea Parker and others from the Registrar’s Office, Sr. Judith was allowed to complete her course work online.
“It was like a battle to complete this degree online in Nigeria,” she said. “There was no electricity and unstable internet network systems. I got low grades in some of my first online semester exams due to poor network system and my lack of online school skills.”
In her day-to-day life, Sr. Judith always made time for her studies. She would spend her days attending community prayers, morning Mass, cooking, taking care of laundry, and cleaning. But, she added, “This final semester was so challenging that I did my prayers privately. My Zoom classes overlapped with my community prayers and morning Mass was not every day. I couldn’t wake up on time because of midnight classes and studies.”
Throughout it all, Sr. Judith’s faith helped her to accept whatever difficulties she faced. She persevered, increasing her study times and improving her grades.
In addition to her faith, Sr. Judith noted that there were several people at the college who helped her complete her studies by working with her through her hardships. These professors include Rae Fallon, associate professor of Psychology; Kathleen Venable, associate professor of Mathematics; Robert Miller, associate professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the division of Philosophy & Religious Studies; Anne Ferrari, associate professor of Psychology; and Robin Rosenberg, career counselor with the college’s Career Center.
In particular Sr. Judith says there were two professors who helped her adjust to this transition and made sure she still had access to every opportunity.
“God’s grace came to me initially through my advisor, Adar Eisenbruch,” assistant professor of Psychology, she said. “He really brushed me up in written English and in online school skills in his Developmental Psychology class.”
She added, “I cannot exaggerate the numerous graces I received in this last semester from Professor Amanda Maynard (Psychology). She is always available to assist me in doing my assignments, extending the time of submission, patiently bearing with me during poor network [connections], and she made sure that I obtained my Honors Award in Psi-Chi certificate.”
Despite everything, Sr. Judith said she would not have been able to graduate without those who helped her throughout her entire college experience. And in particular, she is grateful for the way her faith has guided her through the entire process.
“I thank God Almighty who has given me the strength, knowledge, and wisdom to complete this degree with Honors in Psychology,” she said.