SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– College seniors are graduating around the Ozarks this week. For two students graduating, whether it was school or the National Guard, it was quite the journey.

“My military experience has been pretty great. I can’t complain. Six years, and I haven’t been deployed, which is good because I was pursuing a degree,” MSU student Breona Ellis said.

While serving in the US Army as a National Guard specialist, Ellis was also a first-generation student at MSU.

“So no one really told me what to expect from college and the workload was a lot more than I anticipated,” Ellis said.

Plus, she had to balance studying in Springfield and making monthly visits to her base in St. Louis.

“Usually during breaks or down time I would study in the car.”

When COVID-19 first began, her classes and duties went virtual, receiving training over conference calls.

After a while, most of her classes were still online, but she had to go back to serving in-person.

“Providing relief to families in different areas of Missouri, we do missions transporting different types of cargo to different states,” Ellis said.

Through it all, she’s graduating and about to pursue a master’s degree.

“As I walk across the stage it’s going to be a whirlwind of emotions from where I started to where I am now,” Ellis said. “I’m doing pretty well.”

“I’m studying environmental plant science as a masters student,” Karlene Negus said. “My research got off to a good start. I completed some work out in the fields, in the vineyards, and then in the lab.”

Once the pandemic hit, Negus had to switch to doing computer projects about genetic analysis.

“Conferences, those got converted online,” Negus said. “And that makes it harder to get networking in.”

Her work motivated her to pursue a PhD after graduation.

“Overall, COVID might have slowed us down but it didn’t stop us. That’s for sure.”

Negus will pursue a PhD in genetics at Iowa State, and Ellis will stay at MSU to get a master of business administration degree.