Growing up, it would have been easy for Caitlin Bassett ’15 to let life’s circumstances get her down and hold her back. After all, she had her fair share of struggles growing up. In fact, she almost didn’t graduate from high school.
“An earlier version of me would have blamed that on my parents’ divorce or a smattering of teenage hardships,” she says. “But the truth is I almost failed because I felt like my life was someone else’s responsibility.”
One day, though, Bassett realized that she wasn’t just entitled to things in life. She had to take ownership of her actions and demand better for herself.
“This little voice in the back of my head said you’re not supposed to be just some girl who didn’t graduate high school. Reach higher,” Bassett recalls.
With this new-found attitude, Bassett found motivation close to home.
“A man from my family had served in every American war, and [this] was something I was always proud of—and I needed something to be proud of in that moment,” Bassett says. “So, I decided to be the first female in my family line to serve.”
Determined, she worked her way through basic training, meeting people from all walks of life along the way. She quickly learned that the things she had complained about early in life really weren’t that bad.
“Turns out, the world didn’t owe me a thing,” she notes. “My future rested with me—and the only way up was through.”
No more excuses
Education had taken a back seat for Bassett, and she had no shortage of real excuses for that. Although she had managed to graduate from high school, her military service made it difficult for her to pursue a college degree.
She then spent seven years of service as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, with two of her three deployments being in Afghanistan. There, she saw first-hand what life was like for women with limited choices. She would have expected this to bring them down, but what she found instead inspired her even more.
“What did I find there? Resiliency. Ingenuity. Entrepreneurship. Gratitude for the ability to even be able to read. Girls and boys studying in huts with no power and no running water in the middle of a war zone,” she says. “I felt ashamed that I had had so much opportunity in my life and instead of taking those opportunities, I’d wasted years being angry at what wasn’t perfect. I could do more, I could reach higher.”
Forging her future
As she decided it was time to go to college, Bassett met a UMGC representative on a small base in the eastern sector of Afghanistan. In an office that had been mortared twice and nicknamed “Rocket City,” she found people who were committed to helping soldiers like her reach higher in their lives through education.
She began taking classes online, and when she was stationed back in the U.S., she attended in-person on the UMGC campus just a half-hour from her hometown. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she felt excited to continue her education and enrolled in law school.
She had a nagging feeling, though, that something wasn’t quite right.
“There was a little voice saying ok, you did it, but is this really where you want to be?” she explains. “I really didn’t want to be a lawyer.”
She knew it was time to take responsibility for her own happiness. She began learning more about others who struggled to find their paths in life, people who had lost their way and then found it again.
Lights, camera, action
“My path eventually led me to theater school at the age of 27, which is basically retirement age for actresses,” she says, laughing.
There, she found a community of people who mentored and supported her as she worked to establish a career in acting. Then she got her big break.
“Five years after starting theater school, I was cast as one of the leads in the NBC Primetime series Quantum Leap, which is currently airing its second season,” she says.
While she hopes this is just the start of a long and prosperous acting career, she’ll make the most of whatever happens next.
“Life is what I make it. And I’ve learned here at UMGC, if you seek it out, the path will find you,” she says. “If you keep going, if you keep taking responsibility, if you keep trying, this life is yours.”
Pride in her UMGC community
She finds inspiration in her fellow members of the UMGC community who have decided to take charge of their lives—and their future—to do something extraordinary for themselves and their families.
“Your decision to reach higher, achieve more, that adds something to the world that can’t be taken back: Hope,” she concludes.
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