Mother of Seven Pursues Degree After 20-year Break

UM-DeSoto student overcomes obstacles to chase graduation goals

Sarah Riehl

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Sarah Riehl began her collegiate journey in 1997 after graduating from Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana. Two decades later, she is continuing that journey at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven.

Earning a degree has always been always a personal goal for Riehl, who attended Louisiana State University straight out of high school as an elementary education major. After two years at LSU, Riehl married and moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Her husband was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejeune. Riehl attended Campbell University there for a brief time before they were transferred to another station.

“I tried two or three times after that to go back to school,” Riehl said. “I went through the application process a couple of times at other duty stations.

“My husband made the decision to continue his career in the Marine Corps, so it got to the point where I couldn’t invest my time and money into something while knowing we would only be stationed there one, two, maybe three years.”

The couple began building their family and ultimately had seven children together. Riehl’s husband retired from the military in 2015 after being diagnosed with leukemia. They relocated to Hernando when his cancer was in remission.

“I decided that things were settling down and I wanted to go back to school,” Riehl said. “It was always my goal.”

She enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College in the spring of 2017 to earn the credits she needed to transfer to UM-DeSoto.

“If the DeSoto Center wasn’t here in Southaven, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said. “Online was not an option, and I can’t drive an hour away, or even 45 minutes, into Memphis.”

Riehl’s husband died in March 2017 after his cancer returned.

“He was always 100 percent behind me in whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “He was my No. 1 fan. Because of his pension and all the things that we set in motion in his Marine Corps career, I have the capability to continue my education. It’s all about balance.”

Riehl is a general studies major at UM-DeSoto. As a single mother of seven, planning is a critical part of her week.

“I keep a big spiral-bound planner that I carry with me,” she said. “I’ve used that for years. Over the weekend, I plan my week ahead and I break things down.

“My youngest is in a day care program twice a week, so I do a lot of my studying and assignments while she’s there or when she takes naps.

“If I know something is coming up, then I plan an easier meal. I do a lot of freezer crockpot meals. Twice a year, my kids help me do a big grocery shop and we prep meals and put them in the freezer. That’s one more thing I don’t have to worry about.”

As for what’s next for Riehl, she will be taking things slow and focusing on her family. Riehl has some 12 classes left before she is able to graduate.

“Regardless of what I decide to do with my degree, I’m still a mom first. My kids range from 16-years-old down to 1-year-old, and they are always going to be first. This is something that I want to finish for me – and I have so many courses that it’s not going to take that long.”

She credits UM-DeSoto admissions counselor Blake Bostick, as well as academic counselors Valerie Haynes and Candace Roberts for assisting her in the transition back to college.

“Every step of the way, Blake has been easing me into it because it’s been so long since I’ve been in school,” she said. “I know it’s not impossible, but so much has changed.

“The technology aspect has been my biggest fear. Candie and Valerie both have been so supportive. Knowing that they have my back – that’s big.”

Bostick applauds Reihl’s tenacity.

“Sarah’s motivation through the admissions process and in the classroom has been remarkable,” Bostick said. “Her perseverance to complete her education should serve as a true inspiration to students who are unsure if they can do it.”

Riehl encourages her children to never stop pursuing their goals, as she is doing.

“I think there’s always something to strive for, no matter how much you know or how good you are at something,” she said. “Whether it’s sports, or academics or your faith, be satisfied, but never stop trying to be better.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit