Lenard, AAB ’14, BBA ’16, and Mona, MBA ’14, Franklin both agree that their pasts were less than ideal.

Mona, one of nine children, was the only one in her family to leave the Fort Thompson Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her family struggled with alcohol abuse and at age 14, she made the difficult decision to move forward on her own. She found a home at Haskell Indian Nations University, where she earned her Associate of Business Administration and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.

Lenard grew up in a home affected by alcohol abuse as well. In his words, his stepfather was into “the street life” and wasn’t much of a father or motivating figure in his life. After graduating from high school, he had a short stint in college, where he slept on a bean bag chair and found that being away from home didn’t exactly equate to success. He dropped out of college in favor of finding work, and school became a distant memory.

Mona and Lenard knew that education was the key to creating a better life for themselves and their children. And in 2012, they both found Baker University, which would be the start of an exciting educational journey together.

Mona and Lenard took the leap and returned to school, Mona for her Master of Business Administration degree and Lenard for his Associate of Arts in Business. The next 18 months consisted of countless nights of finishing homework side by side, and they both graduated in 2014.

But for Lenard, his pursuit wasn’t over; in 2016, he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, and in December, he will graduate with a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership.

“I believe that it was all a divine plan that brought me here to Baker: everything happening at the perfect time, meeting all the perfect people, at the perfect place,” Lenard said.

When Lenard went back to school to finish what he had started 25 years earlier, he took it upon himself to do his family and himself proud. He graduated with his AAB and BBA summa cum laude, and with a 4.0 grade point average for both programs. Mona couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve achieved together.

“Lenard and I were both raised under circumstances that were less than favorable, and we have both defied the odds of our upbringings,” Mona said. “I am looking forward to sharing his success and his excitement at the ceremony in December, as well as the rest of our lives together.”

Mona and Lenard know loss. Shortly after Mona and Lenard met, Mona’s father passed away. And just one week later, Lenard lost his father. And just a year later, Mona’s mother passed away.

What they learned was that loss could not deter them from pushing forward. That was tested again when weeks into his MAOL program, Lenard and Mona lost a son.

This time, instead of pushing through unaccompanied, they found they didn’t have to grieve alone. In one of their darkest times, Lenard and Mona were humbled by the support of the Baker family. The outpouring of care, love, and support from the Baker community helped push Lenard through the program and past the grief.

“I will never forget how the Baker staff made me feel at a time when I should have been the lowest in my life,” Lenard said. “I think my work and accomplishments at Baker would have made my son proud.”

Despite their loss, Lenard was committed to transforming himself through education. He decided that for his other three children, he would continue to make education a priority.

“Baker has helped to illuminate a path of growth through education,” he said. “Our children get to see the dividends of education as they watch us complete our degrees. Through our experience at Baker, we can show our children the difference between how being smart can get you through life, but being educated can lift you onto a higher path.”

Mona, who serves as the director of human resources at Haskell Indian Nations University, said she is probably more excited for Lenard’s graduation than he is. For her, education inspired her to make a difference in the world. By watching Lenard grow and succeed, she realized that being the inspiration for him to succeed was the difference she had been wanting to make.

“Watching my husband diligently chip away at his academic studies continues to bring me great pride because I know the payoff,” Mona said. “I knew he was a success story waiting to happen and because of this, I am extremely proud of my husband.”

For Lenard, earning both his associate and bachelor’s was a way to stick to the promise he made to himself 25 years ago to earn a college degree. But it was his career that pushed him to pursue a master’s in organizational leadership degree. Lenard, who works with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, aspired to feel confident as a leader and have the credentials to prove his expertise. He believes his degrees have done just that.

“My education has confirmed that the principles by which I lead others are on the right track and no one will be able to take that away from me,” he said. “I know that not only does how I lead people feel right, but it is also being taught at a well-reputed university like Baker. I cannot express how empowering that feels.”