Featured Grad: Matt Simms ’19L
Major: Business Administration, Human Resources Management emphasis
Hometown: Hickman, NE
Matt, we featured your story in January, as someone who is battling cancer and still finding a way to work, go to school, and take care of your family. First and foremost, how is your health?
Thank you for asking. My health is an ongoing roller coaster, as I’m sure most chronic illnesses are. We’ve had a few scares (low points on the roller coaster) and sometimes it takes longer than we’d hope to get all the numbers we’re tracking and my energy levels back to where we want. Right now we are at a high point on the ride and have no reason to expect any dips. The ride is worth it and we’re going to enjoy the highs for a long, long time.
When you were first diagnosed with cancer, why was it so important to you to still push forward in pursuit of your degree?
When I was first diagnosed, it was a life changing moment. A lot of things, including school lost their importance. I actually forgot I was currently a student. A couple weeks after my diagnosis my teacher from that term reached out and mentioned they’d noticed my absence. I had completely forgotten about school until that phone call. I told them I wasn’t going to be able to finish and went about starting my withdrawals. Shortly after that, while hanging out with our then two year-old I noticed how she didn’t quit anything. She’s as stubborn as I’ve been accused of being. I decided I needed to finish school so we’d be able to reinforce that stubbornness later with “If your dumb old Dad could finish school with all of life’s obstacles, SO CAN YOU.”
Being a nontraditional student has its challenges, as you have to find ways to balance work, home life, and school. How were you able to manage your time in order to be the best father, colleague, and student you could be?
I can’t imagine trying to do any of this without my wife April. She’s a complete rock star. She changed my life and truly makes me a better man. Getting home from class when your daughters are already in bed is tough. Yet, those nights were made so much easier thanks to everything April does for our family. The house would be clean, dishes done and girls asleep or nearly there. Just walking in the door and seeing everything is under control made it possible to either sit down and knock out some homework or just relax and recharge for the following day at work. You mentioned finding a balance. That’s the key. Some days, you just don’t have “it.” That’s ok. Work hard when you can. Rest when you need. More than once I had to skip a day of work, a family trip, or a fun outing of some sort just to work on homework or get in a nap. It’s not easy, but finding that balance is needed.
Now that you've earned your degree, how great of a feeling is this for you?
Huge. It hit me harder than I expected. My last night of class I pulled into our garage and as I was getting out of the car I had to sit back down and take a minute. This was the last time I was going to be walking into our house having missed supper and bedtime with my family. Our sacrifice for my educational goal was over.
What will be your biggest takeaway from your Doane experience?
My biggest takeaway would be, I actually did it. 22 years after completing my first college classes, I actually did it.
If you had to pick one, what was the most beneficial class you took at Doane and why?
I’m going to cheat here and pick two. Sorry.
LAR 202, Integrative Seminar: Democracy & Diversity, Yalta Conference with Chris Brady. Hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in a classroom. Chris may be the most enthusiastic educator I’ve ever met. His passion for history and sharing that knowledge with others is contagious. You can’t get near Chris without getting a smile on your face and excitement flowing through your veins. The role playing aspect of his class took it all to another level. I not only learned so much about this vital part of our world’s history, but I left class each week wanting to learn even more. My wife and a few co-workers could probably teach a class based only on the things I’d share from this course.
LAR 303, Impact Seminar: Connecting Knowledge to Choices and Actions with Dr. Lucas Kellison was intense in all the right ways. Each assignment provided a unique opportunity to learn about myself. During this course I improved my technical writing, improved my ability to share emotions, faced “My Dragon,” spent a full day looking (actually looking at) art, listened to a musical and found the underlying meaning, volunteered at Mat Talbot’s kitchen (an experience my daughter was able to share with me) and experienced multiple stories in a whole new way.
What would be your advice to other adults who are unsure about either going back to school to finish their bachelor's degree or to start the undergrad program and earn a degree?
My advice would be; find the time and just get started. Most of us need others in our lives to help us make that time. Asking for their help is ok. If they can give you that gift of time, cherish it and make it worth it. Time is one of the most valuable things we have, make the most of it.
What does Earning Your Shield mean to you?
It means a lot. Means more than I imagined and probably means more to me now as a 40 year-old husband and father than it would have meant to 22 year old me. My wife, daughters, parents, and sister sitting front row at graduation cheering me on to stage, followed by the giant bear hugs and “Daddy we’re proud of you” from our daughters is a feeling that can’t be described. They are proud of me. I’m proud of me for that.