Julie Barker will walk across the stage today as a graduate of Columbia College after four years of balancing two jobs, her own school books and her children's school events.
For the Jefferson City resident, a recently divorced parent of four children, graduating from college has truly been a family affair.
"I think I should get a juggling certificate at graduation as well," Barker joked as she reflected on the times she sacrificed being able to devote her time solely to her children and family.
In the midst of the divorce, it became evident Barker would find a way to fill the second income gap. Barker's journey began as her brother, Jason Eaton, talked with her about going to college to set herself up for a brighter future.
Barker graduates today with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology in addition to a certificate in crime scene investigation. By finishing college, Eaton said his sister has the potential to change the culture of their family.
"We are not a college family — our father was a bartender and our mother was a hairdresser — but I explained to her that if she worked to attain further skills, her kids wouldn't know any different and would want to go to college and become higher wage earners," Eaton said.
Barker described her brother as an emotional pillar and a guiding star for her during the times things seemed to be falling apart for her. Eaton helped her through the financial aid process, setting up her class schedules and developing weekly calibration sheets to help her plan out her assignments, she said.
She managed to stay on the dean's list throughout college, and during her sophomore year, she was awarded Zonta's Second Chance Scholarship.
Barker is also grateful for the support of her mother and sister. She said they, too, helped fill the gaps when it came to making transportation and meals less of a worry for both her and the children.
"It can be very overwhelming when you have something that spins you off schedule a bit," Barker said. "When you're in college and balancing school and family events, life can be a struggle at times."
Throughout the course of her studies, she realized her older kids were learning similar concepts in math and science. While doing a forensics project, her children even helped her to reenact some of the crime scenes her project required.
"I get excited about learning, and by me learning, my kids learn, too," Barker said. "I have become a huge advocate for education. If I can do this, anyone can."
In the future, Barker said, she would like to implement a program that would allow juveniles in the court system to be judged by their peers instead of an adult jury. The concept behind the program would be less punitive and more psychological, where the children are figuring out punishments for other children, she explained.
"The court system isn't the bad guy here; the kids are," Barker said. "And I think we need to bring forth a bit of shame for their actions."