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BYU Grad’s Path Breaks With Tradition

Valen Auna Cox’s educational path has been anything but traditional.

The “perfect” plan she made after high school graduation was quickly derailed by Mr. Right. Now, 40 years and several twists and turns later, she is amazed to be finally walking away with her degree.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Cox. “I’ve been looking forward to this day nearly my entire life. Now that it’s finally here, I don’t want it to end.”

Nontraditional Education

Cox first came to BYU in 1976 on a scholarship; her twin brother attended BYU with her. It was her dream to graduate with a degree in special education.

“I’ve always wanted to work with special needs children,” Cox said. “I’ve always had the passion for it and I wanted to do it right then. But the Lord has a funny way of getting you back onto His schedule.”

That’s when Cox met her future husband, Terry, a high school social studies teacher in his second year of teaching.

“He was charming, funny, intelligent—everything that I was looking for,” Cox said. “Before I knew it, we got married and he began his 20-year career in the military.”

For Cox, this meant her dreams of graduating from BYU and working with special needs children would be put on hold as her husband was posted in locations around the world and the United States. 

However, in an effort to chip away at a few classes while she could, Cox graduated with her associate’s degree while in Germany and subsequently took classes at Austin Peay State, City Colleges of Chicago, Colorado Technical University and, finally, BYU Independent Study.

Valen Auna Cox


Nontraditional Family

Cox’s schooling is not the only nontraditional aspect of her life. After ten years of struggling to have children of their own, she and her husband decided they wanted to complete their family through adoption. They have adopted five children—whose special needs unfolded and came to the forefront as the years passed.

According to Cox, to parent and befriend each of her children has been one of the greatest joys of her life. Her ambition to work with special needs individuals was not able to happen upon entering college the first time, but she is extremely grateful for the experiences that she has had with her children since then.

“I love my children,” Cox said. “What’s more is that I feel like I’ve learned far more from them than they have from me and Terry. They are our joy and I couldn’t be prouder of each of them.”

Although the special needs of the Cox children run the gamut from gifted and talented to developmental issues (including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), speech impediments and learning disabilities), the five kids have a doctorate degree and two–almost three–bachelor’s degrees among them. Each one of them are continuing to pursue further education.

“We are clearly pro-education,” Cox said. “Probably because we see the difference it has made in us and those around us.”

Of course, when Cox finally made the decision to come back to school and finish her degree for good, it became a family effort.

“Taking online classes takes a lot of dedication,” Cox said. “But I loved how I was easily able to talk with my kids about my readings and what I was learning. They were great sounding boards and were very helpful in holding down the fort while I studied.”

While she was busy studying, Cox’s children would clean the house and cook the family meals.

“I don’t know how we got so lucky, but we sure got some great kids,” Cox said.

Another “Perfect” Plan

Finally, when Cox came back to school after raising her family, she decided to pursue a different budding interest: literature. After all, it seemed to her like she was following another “perfect” plan.

Cox will graduate this month with a Bachelor of General Studies degree with an emphasis in English and American Literature, a triumph 40 years in the making.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Cox said. “This isn’t just a personal achievement though, this was a family effort.”

Writer: Beau Jones

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