By Joy Vann

More than 20 years after earning bachelor’s degrees in information technology from Old Dominion University, twin sisters Monique and Nichole Perry are prepared to receive their Master of Business Administration degrees from the University’s Strome College of Business during commencement exercises on May 4.

While it was a long road filled with the ups and downs of life, it was practically inevitable that they would earn master’s degrees. Their parents, Bettie and Kevin Sr., instilled in Monique, Nichole and their brother, Kevin Jr. the importance of education early on.

Their mother set the example by earning a master’s degree at ODU and later a doctoral degree in instructional technology from ODU in support of her 30-year career in special education.

In 1999, as Nichole and Monique prepared to graduate from high school, their mother gave them two options: college or the military. 

They chose college and enrolled at Old Dominion University. Their uncle, a computer engineer, suggested that they pursue technology “to see where it takes them.” They followed his direction and graduated in 2003. 

If ODU had a linked undergraduate/graduate degree program at that time, they likely would’ve pursued it. But that wasn’t offered so they went straight to work. 

Monique started out as a software engineer, moved on to technical management and is now a senior program manager. Nichole had a similar trajectory as a project program manager. 

Along the way, they both had children and faced the same challenges of working parents everywhere. 

Though graduate school still beckoned, it seemed like a daunting project given all they had on their plates. Monique remembered how her mother’s observation about time made all the difference.

“I was pushing 40, and I was thinking I don't know if I really have the time to sit here and go to classes. Who has that time?” she said. “And then my mother said to me, which still resonates with me to this day, that time is going to pass by anyhow, whether you like it or you don't like it, so you might as well spend that time working towards a goal.”

With that encouragement, the sisters enrolled in the University’s MBA program. 

That was the start of what would become a five-year journey. The hiccups came from the quotidian things in life — namely childcare and full-time work. 

“I have three daughters. I had one of my daughters through this journey. So, it's taken us a little bit longer than two years,” Monique said. “But through perseverance, continuing to work full time and taking care of our children, here we are, at the next stage of our lives.” 

Nichole concurred that going back to school was anything but easy.

“I’m a single parent so that’s been challenging. My sister and I work full time and we both travel for work. It's difficult to balance everything,” Nichole said. “Now, we’re so focused on finishing out this degree and I'm excited that we're finally at this point. It's taken us awhile, but we are here.”

Nichole added that ODU’s flexibility was extremely beneficial. 

“Our priority is our family and making sure that everyone is doing well. Education couldn’t be our number one priority. So, we took our time, taking two classes each semester,” Nichole said. “We just kept pushing ourselves, semester to semester, staying present, until we realized our goal.”

The 42-year-old Chesapeake residents credit their parents and their families, their mother in particular, with helping them get through graduate school. 

“Our mom has three children who all do the same sort of work and eight grandchildren,” Monique said. “She has really been the pillar in supporting us through everything and helping us with our children. It’s been an amazing journey. And she's been the main person to help us along the way.”

The Perrys also said they could not have done it without the help of their older children. 

“There were times where I’d be in a class Zoom session and I couldn't attend to everything my younger kids needed,” Monique said. “My oldest daughter, who’s 12, and Nichole’s son, who’s 11, really stepped up and helped provide some of that support when I couldn’t find a sitter. Our kids were also part of that support system and looking out for their mommy and auntie.”

Nichole’s advice to others thinking about returning to school is reminiscent of a famous sneaker advertisement. 

“Just do it, just get started,” she said. “Don't focus on a timeline. You just have to take things one step at a time. And, don't compare yourself to anyone else's journey.”