Fitchburg Parents of Four Graduate Together from SNHU
FITCHBURG — Less than a week after graduating from Southern New Hampshire University with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in accounting, Fitchburg couple Tricia and Ryan Perry were all smiles.
The parents of four both graduated summa cum laude from SNHU’s online program, all while working and raising a 15-year-old, twin four-year-olds and a two-year-old. They walked the stage at the SNHU Arena on Mother’s Day.
“We wanted to show our kids that even though life happens, you can still make your education a priority,” Tricia Perry said.
The couple met working at the Leominster Petco in 2001, a year after Tricia Perry graduated Fitchburg High School. She was raised in Fitchburg, while Ryan Perry’s family moved all over the country with his father, who was in the military. After graduating high school in Alaska, Ryan Perry had been working in commercial fishing. It was the off season, so he decided to visit a friend who had moved to Massachusetts.
Ryan Perry’s trip wasn’t supposed to be permanent. He never imagined that he would meet his future wife, or settle down in Fitchburg. The couple married in March 2003, and had their first child in December.
Tricia Perry had enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst after high school, but withdrew after one semester to move back to Fitchburg. Ryan Perry never got the chance to attend college after he graduated high school.
“It was something I wanted to instill in my son... [that] going to college was very important,” Ryan Perry said. “I didn’t really have a specific goal in mind, I just wanted to have a degree.”
In 2009, Ryan Perry enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. On most days, he worked as a truck driver from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m., then went to school from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
A year later, Tricia Perry started in MWCC’s early education program. She later switched to accounting, because she found an unexpected interest in her husband’s studies. At the end of 2013, the couple transferred to SNHU, where online classes gelled better with their busy schedules.
“They structure it in such a way that you can do it at your own pace,” Tricia Perry said.
She was Ryan Perry’s biggest motivator, and vice versa. “We’re both super competitive,” Tricia Perry said with a laugh. They were constantly trying to one-up each other on assignments.
It was friendly competition, though. Tricia Perry proof-read all of Ryan Perry’s essays, and he helped her with statistics. “We were definitely study buddies like that,” Ryan Perry said.
“It was definitely a team effort,” they said, at almost exactly the same time.
The couple’s twin daughters were born in 2015, and their youngest daughter was born in 2015. While Tricia Perry was in labor with their youngest, Ryan Perry typed away in the hospital room, working on a discussion board assignment.
Before long, the couple worked out a fine-tuned, although stressful, system. Tricia Perry cared for the kids and homeschooled their oldest, while Ryan Perry continued to drive trucks. They would study early in the morning before the kids woke up, during nap times, and after the kids’ bedtimes. They took turns babysitting to take tests and quizzes.
Schoolwork came before relaxation. The couple recalled a trip to Niagara Falls they took one Christmas. The family arrived on December 22, but an assignment was due the next day — so they hunkered down on vacation. “Hotels with Wi-Fi are crucial for our lives,” Tricia Perry said.
Online courses at SNHU are eight weeks long — much shorter than a typical college semester. “You have to be much more self-driven in online coursework,” Tricia Perry said. “It’s up to you whether you succeed or fail,” she added.
“We really wanted to learn the material... If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right,” Tricia Perry said.
And that they did. Tricia Perry graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, and Ryan Perry finished with a 3.6.
“She only got a 4.0 because she did her best to try to beat me,” Ryan Perry joked. “Without that [competition], we probably wouldn’t have scored so high.”
Because Tricia Perry started school a year later than Ryan Perry, he took some time off so they could graduate together.
In September, the couple will begin graduate classes with SNHU’s online program. She is going for her master’s in marketing, and he is striving for his master’s of business administration specializing in accounting.
“We figured, why not go all the way?” Tricia Perry asked.
The couple offered words of encouragement for others who may consider returning to college. “You can keep pushing it off and pushing it off,” Ryan Perry said. “Or you could make it happen,” Tricia Perry finished.