Dads With Degrees: Stories of Challenge and Triumph
This spring’s Commencement at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) was a weekend of celebration for thousands of students earning their degrees. Among those graduates were fathers and grandfathers — as well as those who serve as father figures to others.
Their stories are set in all kinds of places: on military bases in Afghanistan, in kitchens with little kids running around, on the streets of Chicago. The thread that connects them all? A drive to transform their own lives and the lives of those around them through the power of education. And it’s something that each of them, in their own way, achieved through this milestone.
Ending Gun Violence Through Education: Billy Moore ’23
Billy Moore ’23 believes there’s greatness in everyone.
In his work with nonprofit organization Chicago CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny), Moore wants to show young Black men that they have greatness within them. CRED is on a mission to reduce gun violence in Chicago, a mission Moore has made his own, too. He mentors individuals in the community aged 18-30, a demographic particularly at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violent crime. These men, as Moore puts it, are real people — but society has trapped them into thinking otherwise.
“Young Black men are told they can’t be more than thugs and criminals,” he said. “And that’s not true. They come from a set of circumstances that make it easy to fall victim to gun violence, crime, incarceration. These people never even had a first chance.”
In 2016, this cause became especially important to Moore when it impacted his own life in a tragic way: He lost his son to gun violence. Determined to save the lives of men like his son, Moore turned to education. This spring, he earned his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in General Studies through SNHU’s partnership with CRED. He did it to show the men in his community what they’re capable of.
“Only through education can you gain a certain amount of respect, no matter how people may see you — your skin color, your background,” he said. “Education can mitigate that and open doors."
Moore’s work hasn’t stopped with CRED. In 2021, he published "Until The Lion Speaks," a book that details how gun violence has played a role in his life — and why reducing it is the foundation of his career.
That same year, he was featured in a documentary, "All These Sons," which won an award at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. He hopes these projects will extend his message beyond the men he works with on a day-to-day basis and have an even greater impact.
More than anything, Moore wants to honor the life of his son by ensuring young Black men know their value and see the opportunities available to them. According to him, their destiny is in their control, but having the right support is key.
“It’s hard when you feel like you’re trapped in a certain environment,” he said. “In order to make it out, you need people to guide you. And hopefully, that’s what I’m doing. Education gives you credentials that no one can ever deny or take away.”
Ambition Has No Age: Robert Heckinger ’23
At 77 years old, Robert Heckinger ’23 doesn’t want to retire. He has more he wants to do, and he’s doing it.
He traveled from his home in Tucson, Arizona, to walk the stage at Commencement in April. As he came to the finish line of his BA in General Studies — a degree 55 years in the making — he reflected on the journey that brought him there.
“Life got in the way many, many times,” he said.
For Heckinger, the past 55 years were busy. He served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, ran a successful financial services business and raised a family — one that now includes grandchildren. In most ways, his life felt full. But in 2013, he decided something was missing, and set his sights on earning a degree.
“I was not going to stop until I got it,” he said.
And he didn’t stop. Heckinger spent years working on his degree, successfully earning his associate and coming to SNHU to complete his bachelor’s.
Online learning worked well for Heckinger. He created a schedule and stuck to it, spending time in the evenings writing papers and reading. His favorite part of the experience was getting to interact with classmates from all walks of life.
“I learned a lot from students in the classroom,” he said. “You’re meeting people who have different goals, different expertise. It’s amazing.”
To Heckinger, earning this degree wasn’t just about gaining knowledge. It was about sharing a love of learning, which he describes as a gift he can give to others. His goal is to become a history teacher and show his family and community that with hard work and kindness, one can achieve great things.
He hopes his children and grandchildren will see his determination as an example.
“I want to show them that if you put your head and your heart into it, you can be successful at anything,” he said.
He also believes that for military veterans, pursuing new goals can be transformative.
“I feel like if I’m learning something, it keeps me excited about life,” he said. “Find something you want to do, something that interests you. Whether it’s a trade or an educational goal, go for it.”
From Deployment to Commencement: Bill Gelinas ’22MBA
For Bill Gelinas ’22MBA, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” he said. “So I try to look forward and say, ‘There’s a reason why we’re doing this.’”
This mindset, one of hope and resilience, has guided his path as a U.S. Air Force reservist of 18 years, as a father of three and as a student at SNHU. Last fall, he earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA), and the journey to get there began in Afghanistan.
While on his third of four deployments overseas, Gelinas was encouraged by military mentors to pursue his undergraduate degree. He started coursework during that deployment and earned his bachelor’s.
From there, he traveled to Iraq and, while stationed there, worked his way through the MBA program at SNHU. Through all of it, the support of Gelinas’s family was his driving force.
“Military families face a ton of challenges,” he said. “The hardest job in the military isn’t the person who’s serving. It’s the family at home supporting that service member.”
When he wasn’t deployed, Gelinas’s days were spent working at Eversource, playing with his kids and plugging away at coursework after they’d gone to bed. While there were times it felt overwhelming to balance work, family and school, Gelinas hopes his determination through this journey is something his kids take with them. And after losing his own father in 2021, his role as a father became even more important to him.
“I try to instill in my kids the value of being lifelong learners,” he said. “I hope they see that in Dad. I hope they see that hard work will pay off, and that it doesn’t necessarily come easy.”
For Gelinas, a graduate degree paired with years of military service is an invaluable professional tool. When he reflects on what it’s given him and his family, he encourages other service members to pursue their education, too.
“Education and experience together make a powerful combination,” he said. “So if you’re thinking about it, do it. Don’t wait. Make sure you’re capitalizing on all of the benefits the military gives you.”
Starting Fresh and Fulfilling a Promise: Michael Glenn ’23
When Michael Glenn ’23 was in 12th grade, it felt like his whole life was ahead of him. Like many his age, he’d just gotten his high school diploma and was envisioning his future. But he made a decision that would cost him the next 13 years of his life. He spent those years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.
What was especially hard for Glenn was the impact this chapter of his life had on his mother.
“She took my incarceration a lot harder than I did,” he said. “She blamed herself.”
Following his release from prison, Glenn was determined to repair his relationship with his mom. Before she passed away, he promised her he’d go on to live a healthy, successful life, and that included a vow to earn his degree. A first-generation college student, he graduated from SNHU this spring with a BA in General Studies.
And on that day, he said,“I feel like I’m fulfilling my end of that promise to my mother.”
For Glenn, earning this degree is about being a son — but it’s also about being a father.
“I’m most proud of my son,” he said. “He’s 14. Having him gave me the spark to keep going and serve as an example. It just pushed me. I had to be there for him.”
From here, Glenn hopes to use his degree as a tool for advancing in the energy field, his current line of work, and plans to pursue a master's degree starting this fall.
He credits SNHU for being exactly what he needed as a non-traditional student. Often working 12-hour shifts six days a week, Glenn leveraged the flexibility of online learning to make earning a degree work for him. Now, he encourages others to do the same.
“Don’t give up,” he said. If you’ve got the belief in yourself, nothing and no one can stop you. If that’s your goal, and you want it, you can go get it.”
Leading His Daughter by Example: Frederico Curty ’23G
Frederico Curty ’23G is proud to be the son of Brazilian immigrants. Graduating with his Master of Science (MS) in Higher Education Administration isn’t just for him — it’s for them, too.
“Being a first-generation college student is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s also the dream of my mother, who’s always deposited a tremendous amount of trust in me to pursue my education.”
Growing up, Curty watched his parents work tirelessly as construction workers and house cleaners. The values of grit, determination and sacrifice were instilled in him early on. They’ve stayed with him as he earned his degree at SNHU, one course at a time.
As a single dad, these lessons are something Curty hopes to pass on to his own daughter, who watched him graduate this spring.
“She’s always wondering what Daddy’s doing on the weekends — assignments are due, things like that,” he said. “This is where it comes full circle. She sees the reason why.”
Curty currently works in the Registrar’s Office at SNHU. He used the university’s Employee Tuition Benefit to earn his master's degree, and said the support he received from colleagues and leaders is something he feels especially grateful for.
He’s a firm believer in the power of education, and while his work at SNHU already feels impactful, he believes this degree will help him help students in an even more significant way.
“Education means everything to me,” he said. “It changes the trajectory of your life. This degree puts everything I’ve done in my career into perspective.”
To others considering earning their degree — particularly other single dads — Curty says it’s worth the sacrifice, and at SNHU, you’ll have the resources you need to be successful.
“I never once in my program felt like I was left alone,” he said. “I’ve always felt like somebody was there and somebody cared for me.”
Curty plans to use his degree to continue serving students and is excited for what the future holds.
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Abigail Mark ’23G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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