CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Midlothian mother completed a dream 30 years in the making when she received her master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) this December after tragedy cut her freshman year at the school short in 1990.

Stacy Stutzman’s freshman year at VCU began over 30 years ago in 1990. Upon arriving on campus, she quickly found her love for learning while studying education.

“Never had a late project,” Stutzman exclaimed.

However, her first year in college was put on pause when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I opted to leave VCU and take care of my mom,” Stutzman said. “College at that point wasn’t in the cards for me, and that was okay because I knew what I needed to do was take care of my family.”

This unexpected turn of events prompted Stutzman to pivot vocational directions and study nursing. She earned her associate’s degree from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Henrico County and has worked in the medical field since then. But she knew she wanted to return to VCU for her master’s degree.

“That was my place,” Stutzman said. “I started there over 30 years ago, I knew I wanted to go back and finish there.”

The registered nurse picked up her education at VCU, but she was thrown for another loop during the process of receiving her bachelor’s degree.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so my whole world was kind of on pause again,” Stutzman said.

Stutzman quickly adopted a balancing act. She took things class by class — raising a family, working and battling her own diagnosis along the way. Finally, Stutzman had the chance to receive her master’s degree and wear her cap and gown this December alongside her daughter, who also graduated from VCU within this past year.

“For me, I was most proud to be able to show myself I was able to go back and achieve the goal I had set out 30 years ago,” Stutzman said. “Eventually you will loop back into the journey you’re meant to be on. It may not be exactly the road you want to take, but you will get there.”

Regarding the future, Stutzman has maintained a passion for education and hopes to one day share that love with the next generation of nurses.