The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t initially bring any good for me.
I was working odd jobs at the time the pandemic hit, as I had always done, and it had gotten to the point where I was losing out on jobs because I no longer met their degree requirements. Things were different than they were before the pandemic, times had changed, and the job market was no longer what it was before — and it was clear that it was not returning to the normal I had known any time soon.
However, it was during this time that my life also drastically changed for the better. I had seen an ad for Western Governors University (WGU), a unique online school that was offering programs that could be completed on my time and at my own pace for a fraction of the cost of other similar online schools, and I decided why not? What did I have to lose?
My life’s course and career trajectory completely changed from there. I graduated from WGU with my bachelor’s degree and subsequently went back for my master’s degree in cybersecurity and information assurance, which I completed in June 2021. I now work as a cybersecurity analyst for a major technology company that provides services for over 100 Fortune 1000 companies and all 15 U.S. federal executive departments.
Being a graduate of WGU has brought me so much more than a stable and reliable job. It has increased my pay and this career has allowed me to provide for my children the things I could never have as a child and ensure they will never go through the things I did. In fact, we’re getting ready to purchase our first home.
I’m sharing all of this because I learned that there is a bill before the Florida Legislature that will provide more access to those who are looking to change their future, just like I wanted to do. The legislation — Senate Bill 1284, by Sen. Joe Gruters, and House Bill 823, by Rep. Kaylee Tuck — would expand access to grant funds so that Floridians who need the means to pursue their education aspirations can, and with a university that fits their life.
Because WGU greatly changed my life for the better, I hope that Florida realizes the immense and positive impact this legislation will have for Floridians. By expanding access to these grant funds, more Floridians will have the opportunity to pursue an education that fits a complicated life; because for a lot of us, a traditional education simply doesn’t work with everything else going on.
What turned out to be a life-altering decision for me could become possible for others with the passage of this legislation. I ask Florida lawmakers to keep in mind the immeasurable effect this legislation could have in our state and the amount of good they can do in the state — please support SB 1284 and HB 823 this Session.
William Gildersleeve lives in West Palm Beach.