Receiving a diploma, with a little help from family

Margaret Peterson poses at graduation with her 12-year-old son, Mark.
Margaret Peterson poses at graduation with her 12-year-old son, Mark.

Last week, Margaret Peterson graduated from La Salle University with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, to add to her doctorate in theology and ethics.

Due to complications with her husband Dwight’s health, it took the Eastern University professor four years to complete her studies. Dwight, a paraplegic since age 18, who also taught at Eastern, was not expected to live to see his wife graduate. So you can imagine the post-commencement celebration that took place after he watched his wife’s latest achievement via video conference.

We spoke with Peterson hours after her graduation and learned about her years of teaching with Dwight at Eastern and what it took for her to reach this goal.

“It feels a little unreal,” she says. “My husband is really glad to have seen me finish. It feels like a joint project that we got through.” Peterson adds that her husband and 12-year-old son, Mark, took on a “let’s get mom through grad school” mentality that certainly kept her motivated.

But it was hard for anyone to imagine Dwight living to see this day. “He’s been in [hospice care] for 10 months,” says Peterson, citing complications from paraplegia as the cause.

“It’s been difficult. I’ve been teaching. Then I was on sabbatical for an internship, doing the nursing at home, and trying to keep our son on an even keel. There’s been a great deal of help from school and  church. It’s been a lot, and I’m extremely relieved to be done.” Peterson hopes to put her new degree to use by helping families who are dealing with illness and disability. “That’s always been an interest of mine, even before my husband was very ill,” she says. “It’s been a big reality in my life.”


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