Master of Procrastination -- and Perseverance

It's another beautiful summer day. I try to block out the joyous shouts from the park across the street. I have little time for such afternoon delights.

Bioethics calls.

My 20-month-old son, Sam, is sleeping. That means 60 minutes of prime homework time on this weekend afternoon. My School of Continuing Studies classes have taught me nothing if not focus.

I'm starting the third year of my liberal studies master's program. Balancing work, my studies and family time is a tough act for sure. With hundreds of pages of reading a week, papers and other course work, it's hard to find time to fit it all in.

Daily exercise is a thing of the past since I started the program. The dusty pile of National Geographic magazines on my nightstand inches taller each month. I have close to 700 unread e-mail messages in my inbox, and my "honey-do" list gets longer every quarter.

The fun will really begin later this fall when, God willing, my wife, Emily, and I welcome our second child to the world. If I have it mapped out right, I'll be writing my thesis exactly when No. 2 starts sleeping through the night.

But life is not so bad. And I have learned more than a few things along the way. I've discovered once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. I still find a strange thrill in all-nighters and the adrenaline rush that comes with cranking out a final paper with hours to spare. I am a journalist, after all.

I've also learned that a master's in liberal studies will not set me up for a big career move or a hefty pay hike. But it will pay dividends in other ways. It's helped me to think more critically about my role in society, especially in terms of the environmental issues that have become my unofficial focus.

I have also learned that no matter how heavy my load, others have bigger burdens. During one exhausting week in the spring, my Religion, Bioethics and Public Life class met in Evanston three times, meaning six hours in the car for my classmate Romi Herron-Cologna, who drove an hour each way from suburban Bloomingdale. That was the easy part of her journey.

She underwent major surgery in February and had to decide between her master's degree and her full-time job at the Kellogg School of Management. She chose the degree despite the loss of her tuition discount.

When the class schedule changed dramatically to include Sunday night class sessions in the professor's Evanston home, Romi relied on her sister to help care for her 8-year-old son since her husband travels extensively for business.

"I remained determined," Romi says. "I was barely able to drive in the early part of the quarter, so leaving the professor's house at 11 at night was, well, scary. But since I often remind my son to finish what he starts, I must set an example.

"So onward I go, with just four classes remaining!"

That's the best lesson I've learned yet. — S.H.