About once a week during the summers, when she was a kid growing up in Appleton, Wisc., Sarah Barr’s dad would take her and her two brothers out to the farm fields next to their house. They’d go looking for Native American arrowheads.
They’d stop at the gas station first and load up on snacks – hot dogs and chocolate milk. Then the three kids would follow dad around, spending the day walking the rows of corn, peering hard into the dirt.
“I loved to find the arrowheads in his footprints,” Sarah recalls. “The ones he had missed and stepped right over, I would pick up and make fun of him for not seeing them the first time.”
When Sarah graduates in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sustainability from Arizona State University – part of the latest cohort to take advantage of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP) benefit – it won’t be just a story of resilience: how she gave college another shot and finished 10 years after her first try.
For Sarah, 28, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Wausau, Wisc., the degree is also a tribute to her late father Clark, who inspired her to love and care for the outdoors and its natural resources.
“Some of my favorite memories were being outside with him,” Sarah says. “I’ve always been the most at peace when I’m outside. I know that he would be absolutely thrilled that my dream is finally coming true.”
She hopes to eventually find a job where she feels like she’s “interacting with other people who have the same mindset and the same sustainability goals.” She wants to preserve natural lands and resources for future generations.
Sarah started at Starbucks about five years ago, a couple weeks after her father died of natural causes in his sleep, and discovered SCAP soon after. Starbucks offers 100 percent tuition coverage towards a first-time bachelor’s degree from ASU’s online program for any benefits-eligible partner.
Ten years ago, when Sarah went to college the first time, she studied criminal justice hoping to be a police officer. After a semester, she knew she couldn’t afford any more. When her dad picked her up from college, she remembers him saying during the drive home, “I don’t know why my kids don’t get to go to school.”
“He really felt like maybe he didn’t do enough because he didn’t have the money to send us,” Sarah recalls. Clark painted commercial buildings and houses.
Sarah is married to a veteran, Stan, a communications specialist who medically retired from the Marines after almost four years of service. Since, due to COVID-19, ASU’s traditional graduation ceremony is postponed, he’s promised to build her a stage at home so she can “walk” an at-home graduation ceremony. She’ll watch the virtual ceremony put on by ASU and send the link to her mother and grandparents, so they can celebrate with her, her husband and their three cats – Monster, Terror and Beast.
She knows her dad will be there too.
“I always kind of feel like he’s around somewhere,” Sarah says. “When he passed away, it was the middle of the summer, and there were monarch butterflies flying around everywhere. They come back (every year) when the snow goes away. Every time I see a monarch butterfly, I’m reminded of him. He’s maybe one of those butterflies, coming to check in on me and just giving me a peaceful moment where I’m relaxed and can feel like everything’s OK.”