Rachel Kaplan

BA Communication - Public Relations

"I found getting the degree was very empowering. I was doing this for myself."

A degree can lead you places, but generally the destination is more abstract — a better job, a better career, a better future. Rachel Kaplan’s bachelor’s degree in public relations means a better future, but it also includes palm trees, beaches and a more laid-back attitude.

“Having that (degree) will make me stand out,” Kaplan said. “Good customer service is a lost art, and between the degree and my experience, well, it all came together.”

“It all” is a curious mix of the good and the challenging, of pasts and futures, and one item on the bucket list.

The bucket list item was a trip to the Florida Keys. Three days in she and her husband, Erik, realized this was the place for them. Shortly after, their life started to coalesce around the goal of living in the southernmost part of the United States.

Early on in life Kaplan’s daughter, Rylee, 10, discovered a strong talent for swimming. Rylee trained briefly with a few of the more prominent coaches in the world, based in the Keys, and was tagged as a possible Olympic hopeful. It was also Rylee who helped inspire Kaplan to return to school.

“I couldn’t tell her to go get a degree if I didn’t have one,” said Kaplan.

SNHU came into play as the source of a possible degree when Rylee became enamored of the big blue SNHU bus. Enrollment became an almost foregone conclusion, but one with an unexpected side effect.

“As a parent you put your personal life on the backburner for your children,” said Kaplan. “But I found getting the degree was very empowering. I was doing this for myself.”

Yet within herself was a possible growing challenge. In 2011 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the doctors she was seeing at the time were not positive about the outcome. Undaunted, she researched and sought second opinions. Finally, a specialist in Boston gave her a qualified answer.

“She gave me the green light to go ahead and live my life,” Kaplan, 43, said. “(The MS) is just a speed bump.”

Kaplan controls the worst of the symptoms with diet and avoids stress. Some days are tough. Most are fine, and she expects the move to the Keys at an as-yet-determined date will help more. In the meantime she is working with a local festival started in her hometown of Chicopee, Massachusetts, and one that she is helping to grow into one of the largest fireworks festivals in the country.

With commencement looming, she said she was a little nervous and a little sad.

“Everything has come full circle,” she said. “I just keep telling myself this can’t be happening.”

While being the rock of her family, she said she would always remember her advisor, Amy Bourgeois as being the rock for her.

“I’m strong, but having that one person (at the university) you could talk to … well, that was amazing. She’s always been there for me,” she said.