Meet Moriah White (’23), a social work graduate who is ready to pass the baton of care she received from the military and Concordia to her new clients.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting a few Concordia’s uncommon May 2023 graduates. Faculty and staff submit candidates for consideration. Stories are posted in the days leading up to commencement. View more uncommon graduates here.
When Moriah White’s life began to crumble around her eight years ago, it was social workers who motivated her to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
Now, Moriah is ready to pay it forward.
She’s poised to graduate from Concordia with her Master of Social Work degree. This weekend, she’ll celebrate her accomplishment during CUW’s commencement weekend.
Military or bust
Moriah had determined when she was just 8 years old that she was bound for the military. Numerous family members have served, but it was her stepfather who was the most influential serviceman in her life. Bob Becher, whom Moriah describes as an “amazing, amazing man,” would share story after story about his time in the U.S. Army.
“I wanted to share that with him. I wanted to have my own cool stories,” Moriah said. “There was no other plan for me. There was no college looking. It was the military, and by golly, I was going to go.”
Moriah eagerly soaked up her father’s advice on which branch of military to select (she chose the Air Force) and she reaped the benefits of his earned wisdom. Ahead of basic training, for example, Becher helped Moriah Army-fold every item in her pack into compact squares. He knew the military’s resiliency training began as soon as a solider stepped foot on base.
“The drill sergeants purposely made you do a lot of lifting and shuffling with the pack you brought,” Moriah explained. “I’m looking around and seeing these other women who have huge suitcases and here I am with my 15-pound bag. My dad had practiced with me the whole time just for that moment.”
On the chopping block
Moriah’s military experience was everything she hoped it would be. She developed grit, she contributed to something bigger than herself, and she gained a community like none other. About five years in, however, doctors diagnosed her with asthma, which posed an enormous threat to her military identity.
The medical condition required her to undergo an annual review before a medical board. Each year, she wondered if this would be the year she’d be deemed unfit for duty.
“It’s kind of like being put on a chopping block each year and wondering if you are going to have a job next year,” Moriah said. “But the military was more than a job for me. It was a culture, it was a community.”
In 2016, after eight years of service, she ultimately opted to separate active duty. She was 27 years old and without a Plan B for her life.
An added stressor was the dissolvement of her marriage around this same time. Seemingly in an instant, Moriah was a single mom of three kids under 5 without a job or any long-term prospects. The first position of employment she was able to obtain post-military introduced her to colleagues who were social workers. These women helped connect Moriah with therapy options for her and her children.
Watching these women in action sparked the first inkling of a calling Moriah had felt since she was young.
“It was kind of like in the military. I wanted to be a part of something and give back in a way that those women had given back to me.”
A graduate of Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School, Moriah knew of Concordia’s Christian ethos and was thrilled to find that CUW “hands down” beat out other Wisconsin college’s military credit transfer offers.
The university works hard to extend support and scholarship opportunities to veterans and their dependents, which is why CUW routinely earns the Military Friendly School designation. In addition to offering more military transfer credits than any other college in Wisconsin, Concordia has maintained its status as a Yellow Ribbon School since 2015. The Yellow Ribbon Program helps fund tuition beyond the yearly federal funding tuition cap. And, as of 2020, veterans in Wisconsin can apply their GI bill benefits to any private or independent university within the state.
A new community at Concordia
The community she began to build at Concordia felt akin to the one she lost when she separated active duty. Before she even enrolled, she saw a promotional video featuring Kari Metts, an Army veteran who now serves as Veterans Outreach Coordinator at CUW.
“I don’t know what it was about her,” Moriah said. “She was so bubbly and tenacious. I saw a lot of myself in Kari.”
Others at Concordia began to step up for Moriah too. COVID proved to be an especially trying time for Moriah. The tenacious veteran had chosen to pursue two majors for her undergraduate experience at Concordia and even created her own course path for the one. She was nearing completion at that stage when the pandemic hit. With her asthma diagnosis, Moriah was placed in an “at-risk” population. Suddenly in fear for her life, Moriah was especially diligent about stay-at-home orders while she worked to balance her course work with her three boys’ schooling.
“Sometimes people still overlook what COVID did to a lot of people in terms of mental health,” Moriah said. “I would be up at 6 a.m. every morning and didn’t go to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. just so I could get my boys’ 12 pieces of homework done each day and then work on my own stuff.”
As a result, Moriah was ready to call it quits on her social work pursuit. A master’s degree isn’t required for all areas of practice, but it was for the line of work Moriah wanted to do. Moriah had been accepted to CUW’s Master of Social Work program but she “was not in a good spot going into grad school.”
Support from social workers
Again, social workers rallied to support her.
“A lot of my professors are very accomplished women who were moms when they went through their own schooling,” Moriah said. “They were so supportive. Social workers are some of the best people to have in your corner when you need help! We had some conversations and decided that I would do the part-time route and they helped me accomplish that.”
Six years after she started her collegiate journey, Moriah is ready for yet another transition in her adult life. Like when she ended her military career, this shift comes with some trepidation. However, this time, she’s also meeting the future with excitement. She already has a job lined up as a Fulltime Clinical Therapist with Wellpoint Care Network in West Bend, and she’s certain that her life experiences will help her better care for others.
“I know the value of having someone figuratively slip their hand into yours when you’re spinning in the darkness,” Moriah said. “It’s not like the social workers in my life did the work for me. I had to do it, but they were right alongside me. Those first women passed the baton to my professors at Concordia who passed the baton to me. And now I’m ready to support others.”
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