|MSL Outstanding Graduate Denise Owens is congratulated at Honors Chapel by Dr. Jim Laub, left, dean of the MacArthur School of Leadership, and her father, Charles R. Caruana, right.|
In 2008, when the Jupiter mother of two decided to enroll in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s MacArthur School of Leadership, she was between jobs and looking to improve her chances of finding a new position her field, human resources.
“I was struggling finding the job that fit my experience in H.R. because a bachelor’s degree was always the minimum requirement,” said Owens, who started taking classes toward a degree in organizational management that summer.
But a devastating new challenge lay ahead. The following spring, her husband, Thomas, was diagnosed with a progressive, debilitating illness. She remained in school, reducing her full-time course load to part-time.
“I used my lunch hours to do my homework,” she recalls. “I took some online classes as well to keep me at home.”
Owens remained in school, even as her husband gradually grew weaker. First he lost the use of his legs, then his hands, arms and eventually his voice, she said.
Last month, on Easter, he passed away at age 45.
Two weeks later, Owens was named the outstanding graduate of the MacArthur School of Leadership. She will be recognized along with nine other outstanding graduates during spring commencement at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Owens, who works full-time as the director of human resources for Automotive Management Services, admits it has been a struggle. She said her husband continued to do as much as he could until the end.
“It did not happen all at once as it would have with an accident, stroke or other quick onset change,” she said. “It was very gradual, so each one of us in our family took it one step at a time.”
She said that her professors encouraged her along the way, including Audy Johnston, assistant professor of leadership and management.
Johnston describes Owens as extraordinarily humble. “She is a person of strength, faith, class and inspiration. I found this to be true from the day I met her,” Johnston said. “I knew in my heart that she was someone very special. I just didn't know how special.”
Owens, whose sons Dustin and Christian are 14 and 8 respectively, said the greatest thing she has learned at PBA is “how to be a servant leader.”
She said she was pleasantly surprised to find Christianity integrated into every aspect of the learning process. “I remember starting my budget and analysis class and wondering how in the world they would incorporate it,” she said, “but my professor really did.”