"I was so excited after the first night of class, I was jumping in my car," said Candice Stratford, a senior graduate student studying English and one of the members of the BYU graduating class of 2015. "I felt like me again. I had tapped into who Candice Taylor Stratford really was. I wasn't just a wife or just a mom of five kids; I was me again - as an individual."
Education had always been important to Stratford, a passion she has ignited every day of the last four years as she has worked on a masters degree in English, researching African Literature, specifically East African Women's literature.
One day she came across an organization based out of Uganda called Femrite, a non-governmental organization (NGO) established in Uganda in 1995 to promote and publish women's writing. Until that point, the literary scene in the country had been limited - publishing houses preferred to print only profitable textbooks rather than novels that didn't sell - and what literature existed was dominated by men.
Stratford wanted to know how Femrite was able to change the literary scene, and many women in the process.
"The only thing I knew was that I wanted to meet these women, and I wanted to know what made them so strong," Stratford said.
So Stratford made a trip to Uganda with her husband in May 2014. She met and interviewed dozens of female writers who were working on short stories, poems and even a few novels. Many of these women were writing about their own traumatic experiences growing up in a war-torn country. The writing was therapeutic to their emotional healing.
"I decided my thesis would be on traumatic experiences that women in Uganda suffered," Stratford said. "I wanted to discover how these women, as writers, represent their trauma. And how the organization itself combats the effects of life-long trauma."
What Stratford realized was the organization not only gives a voice to women, but also gives them a safe-haven and a community. The therapeutic writing style can only be developed from the incredible support system between the women.
She was impressed to see how by giving the writer an audience, the writer finally has a voice to be heard. Being heard allows the writer to look at her traumatic experience head-on and mentally and emotionally reconstruct it.
While the narration of trauma helps to relieve some of the pain, it also inspires many women around the globe.
"Even me," Stratford said.
Seeing the women in Uganda helped Stratford to see her own self-worth and the value behind her own education.
"Sometimes as moms we take care of ourselves just enough, and to have others sacrifice for us is just not something we do," Stratford said. "But realizing that I was worth doing something for, and my husband telling me, 'You're worth this,' was really important and valuable for me to see."
Stratford's education meant her sanity, she said. She loves that her five kids (ages 4-12) can recognize that mom is an important individual, too. And as a family, they can help each other reach their goals and continue towards eternal progression.
Finalizing her research and preparing for graduation gets Stratford one-step closer to her ultimate goal: to teach African literature at the university level.
"For me, going to school was my relaxation, it was rejuvenating getting back into the classroom setting," she said. "But I'm also excited for my kids to see me in my graduation robes and say, 'Look at what my mom did!'"
Writer: Jenna Randle