Some people are naturally upbeat and spread their positive energy to those around them. Diana Kirkland – proud mother of six, grandmother of five, military veteran, Peirce graduate and our student commencement speaker -- is one of them. Diana’s Peirce story spans decades, and includes a few false starts; but what makes it so inspiring is her ability to get back on track, and finish strongly and with grace.
Diana first learned about Peirce in the late 1980s when a family member attended the College. Although she was interested in a college degree, she decided to enlist in the United States Navy instead. She served on active duty from 1988 to 1991 and in the reserves from 1991 to 1994.
While living in and raising her children in Philadelphia, life became a struggle for Diana as she battled an addiction to drugs and alcohol. College was still on her mind, and she began an educational program to earn a paralegal certification at Berean Institute. Unfortunately, her continued struggle with addiction didn’t allow her to complete the program.
2010 opened a new door for Diana. She got sober and her youngest children didn’t need as much care at home, setting her on the path to earning her college degree. Diana attended the TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) Program at the University of Pennsylvania, a preparatory course for veterans who want to go to college. The program prepares veterans in areas that include math, computers, science, literature, and reading so they’re able to pass college entrance exams.
After a year in the VUB program, Diana’s instructors thought she had progressed enough and was ready for college. Around that time, the program took its students on a field trip to Peirce, and Diana got to know the College’s faculty and staff firsthand through the day’s events.
“I was just really impressed with how the staff interacted with the students. You could feel that they were genuine in wanting the students to succeed,” says Diana. “They all said that they had open door policies and that they would bend over backwards to help us with whatever we needed. They had a bunch of resources available for us to reach out if we needed help, and at that point, I decided that this was the college for me. To me, it’s more like a family rather than a college.”
Jim Mergiotti, Peirce’s President & CEO, specifically stood out to Diana. “The main person who stuck out to me at first was President Mergiotti because he said he has an open door policy and if you need anything, you can always drop by his office. Upon meeting me for the first time, he remembered my name,” Diana continues. “[At other colleges she attended] you never saw the president. They were so big and there were so many people, you couldn’t really get to know the faculty and staff besides your professors."
Diana was also impressed with Peirce's dedication to adult learners. "Upon arriving at Peirce, I found that it was very supportive and has students who are in the workforce and want to earn their degrees. That struck me because I had other things that I was doing at the time and it just seemed like it would really fit into my life. I felt like I belonged here.”
Diana enrolled at Peirce in 2012. In 2014, she graduated with her associate degree in Paralegal Studies. And now, she’s preparing to walk across the stage at Commencement 2016 with her bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies, Magna Cum Laude. Throughout her tenure at Peirce, Diana has also been involved in the Peirce Leadership program, as a Work-Study student in the Walker Center, and has served as a Peirce Ambassador. She also made the Dean’s List and President’s List multiple times.
Diana’s passion for Paralegal Studies has been her driving force since day 1 at Peirce College. “I enjoy learning about the law and how it applies to people in our country,” she says. “I’ve always been excited about that. As for my program, I enjoy the faculty and staff because they reach out and they are very supportive. It’s not an easy program and I didn’t expect it to be, but they make it so I can understand it and I can relate it to life.”
Diana has found that the professors at Peirce are willing to go above and beyond for their students; she has even been given help on an assignment over the weekend. “I remember one of my first Paralegal Studies classes, where I was having a little trouble she says. Professor Ivy Kempf went above and beyond for me,” she says. “I was having a problem with an assignment and I wasn’t really sure of how to handle it, so I called her. I left her a message and she called me back. Because it was the weekend, I wasn’t sure she would call me back, but she did. I was thrilled because it allowed me to get the assignment done.”
Diana also felt especially encouraged as a military member at Peirce. “Sometimes it’s hard for a person to be in the military and then come out and transition back into civilian life,” Diana said. “It’s really hard for military members to do that. But don’t forget that there are a lot of programs and incentives out here for military members to go back to school and to achieve something new. Peirce has lots of information available on its website about the types of support military members can find.”
With almost six years of sobriety under her belt and getting ready to celebrate her graduation, Diana has overcome quite a few obstacles on her path to earning a college degree. She's excited to use her role as student commencement speaker to share the wisdom that she’s learned during her journey to earn her degree. Diana says, “In the words of Maya Angelou, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. I will never forget how Peirce College made feel like I am somebody.”
Through it all, Diana has stayed true to her motto; be better than average. “What’s the point in coming to college if you want to just be an average student? I want to be the best I can be!”
Lucky for Diana, she’s much more than average, and a true inspiration to anyone who thinks earning a college degree is beyond their reach. Congratulations on your graduation, Diana!
To learn more about how you can earn your bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies at Peirce College, click here.