By Jenelle Franklin
Christin Kikkert, the speaker at Washtenaw Community College commencement May 20, has grown academic roots after living life at 39,000 feet.
Kikkert has the patience to be sure things feel right, and according to her, it’s paid off. That patience has lead to filling an honored position on the commencement stage before her next chapter begins at Eastern Michigan University this fall.
“It’s how everything just works together in this world, it’s phenomenal,” Kikkert said.
Kikkert will start her journey through 30 credit hours at EMU, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the finish line.
Among her blessings is a full scholarship in Kikkert’s ideal program of study, interior design. Finding out she received a merit-based scholarship quieted her fears that after 20 years in her dream job, school would be a different beast to master.
Her pilot’s log of experiences and miles under her wings as the only female pilot at Northwest airlines taught her how to be confident and own who she is. Kikkert noticed the patterns and periwinkle carpet that were meant to set a calming atmosphere in the bulkhead, an element of her piloting life that foreshadowed her design eye.
But for now, she was making memories landing three-engine jets in Tokyo and commanding her crew.
“I have flown with a female pilot exactly once,” Kikkert said. While flying in the Middle East, it was difficult for Kikkert to direct a crew to pack the plane to her specs when they refused to take order from a woman. “I was Chris the pilot, and I knew there was only one way to balance that plane.”
Kikkert grounded herself after the birth of her son Connor.
“I was still Chris–but now what?”
Connor was born with Trachea Malaysia, a congenital heart defect. Kikkert and her son spent months at the hospital in Grand Rapids. Long walks in the evening brought them inside the halls of Kendall College of Art and Design, where Kikkert found herself admiring the aesthetic and how pleasant the halls made her feel at such a chaotic time in her life.
This was something she wanted to do for others, help them have an enjoyable environment to be in.
“I remember my mom saying, ‘Chris, no matter where you live you always make it look nice,’ whether that was a small apartment, a five bedroom house in the Pocanos, or rearranging furniture in the hotel room,” Kikkert said.
Near the hospital and hotel where Kikkert and her son were staying after he was born, Kendall College became a place of refuge for the pair, “The college is only two blocks from the hospital,” Kirrert said. Kikkert and her son relocated to Ann Arbor, where he was being treated at the University of Michigan.
After being inside Kendall college and comparing the warmth of that space with the starkness in the Ann Arbor hospital PTCU waiting room, Kikkert desired to attend Kendall and inquired as to what it would take to finish a design degree.
The tenth-floor room she waited in while Connor was in surgery became a project of design, one she used as her observation assignment for applying to Kendall. Kikkert wanted to redesign a more welcoming version of the space, meant to comfort patients’ families.
“This is where the nurse practitioner comes up to tell you your son is on bypass, where the doctor comes up to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ this is a momentous place,” Kikkert said.
“I called Kendall to see what classes I would need and was told I needed studio art classes; but not to worry; ‘You have a gem in your backyard, Washtenaw Community College’s Studio Art department is second to none’ the admissions contact told me,” said Kikkert.
It was because of the esteem of the program that brought Kikkert through the doors of WCC. The relative location to Connor’s Michigan Medicine healthcare providers sealed the deal.
“Connor comes first,” Kikkert said. She decided to research what opportunities were available to allow her a second chance at finishing her degree while keeping them close to the people she trusted most with his care.
As she spoke of the anniversary of briefly losing her son and a month they spent in the ICU after, a time she has coined, “The May Fiasco,” Kikkert reflected on the nurses and care team her son has in Ann Arbor.
“The people I have met have been life changing. I don’t know how those nurses do it but we are so, so thankful,” Kikkert said.
Moving forward with a dedicated care team and opportunity for education, Kikkert enrolled herself and Connor at WCC. “I was trying to figure out how to do school with him, daycare was $46 per day.”
“I was very proud to bring my dad on a walking tour of campus after the Phi Theta Kappa ceremony,” Kikkert said, “I took him by the children’s center where Connor goes.”
The WCC children’s center was critical in allowing Kikkert to attend classes with no family close by and babysitters who come and go. She found a place that could teach and care for Connor that was close enough Kikkert felt secure spending her time on campus.
“You can’t buy a better education for Connor,” Kikkert said.
As a bonus, she was able to purchase study time, when Connor is at the children’s center, Kikkert works on her studies on campus.
Kikkert will be around campus until her EMU adventure begins this fall.
“One of the best parts here is the validation for your hard work, you have to earn your grades, they are not handed to you, and that feels great,” Kikkert said.