Anything is Possible

Mother of quadruplets overcomes heartbreak to finish degree at UVU

After taking classes at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, Pamela Neeleman Clark soon realized the financial and academic demands of postsecondary education. Several years later, Pamela returned to school, attending Utah Valley University to finish what she had started and earn her degree at the age of 56. UVU Magazine asked Pamela to relate her story.


By Pamela Neeleman Clark, as told to Kadee Jones | Photography by Eric Flores

Pamela Neeleman by a window

If you have ever seen “Napoleon Dynamite,” you are probably familiar with the satirical line from the character Kip in response to a young girl trying to save money for her postsecondary education: “Your mom goes to college!” For my children, that line always leads to laughter, because, for them, it was true. What they may not know is that they were a large part of the reason I chose to finish my degree.

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be a successful mother. I also fancied the idea of being a teacher because I had always loved my teachers in school. After taking some classes, I quickly discovered that school was expensive, and I wasn’t very good at math. I moved to the Bay Area to work with my brother and his company, Morris Air. After several years, he sold the company to Southwest Airlines, and I decided it was time for a career change.

I was living in the heart of Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, and fortunate circumstances led me to open my own restaurant and catering business. I have always been a foodie, and after attending a local culinary arts program, Everything Fresh was born. Everything Fresh catered to various companies in the area, and everything went well until the dot-com bust.

Opportunity in Utah seemed promising, and I decided to move back to Utah to take a job at a resort, but not before marrying my husband, Stephan. Later, I became pregnant with quadruplets, and Stephan, Carter, Dillon, and Abigail were born. Our son Stephan, who we called Bindy, struggled with many medical issues, and as a result of needing cleaner air, we made a permanent residence in Heber City.

While we were waiting for our house to be built, we lived in some apartments next to the UVU Wasatch Campus. Each day on my way to and from work, I would pass by the campus and think about returning to get my degree. I wanted to show my children the importance of education and how it can lead to success in life. Even more so, I wanted to do something that I told myself I wasn’t capable of doing. After being accepted, I set out to finish what I had started so many years earlier and complete my degree.

Coming back as a nontraditional student was difficult. I still struggled with math and had to retake several classes. It was determined that I had a math learning disability, but with the help of tutors and academic counselors, I found my way through. Doug Miller in UVU’s hospitality department and J Wattereus in University Studies, in addition to many academic advisors, were all dedicated to helping me succeed. UVU is full of people who are committed to students — I know because they believed in me and helped me achieve my academic goals.

Pamela worked toward a degree in university studies with an emphasis in hospitality. She worked as the general manager at a Wyndham resort, and the struggle of trying to balance family life, work, and school proved to have its challenges. Just six months before her expected graduation date, Pamela lost her son, Bindy and finishing her degree seemed nearly impossible.

Pamela Neeleman sitting on the floor and leaning on a chair with a fireplace in the background.

After my son passed away, I wanted to quit. I was only one semester away from graduation, and I could not even fathom the idea of leaving my house and broken family to go back to class. It was so painful, but as had been the case with my whole experience at UVU, my professors all worked with me to catch up by the end of the semester. I was also working full-time, and I was so sleep-deprived. I don’t think I ever slept more than five hours a night for four years.

Just six months later, I walked across the stage at graduation. Next to getting married and having my quadruplets, it was the happiest day of my life. After feeling so much pain, heartache, and self-doubt, my graduation day was that much sweeter.

If I could say anything to nontraditional students, it would be that no matter how far out it seems to go back and finish your degree, no matter how many years have passed, or how much money it will take, anything is possible if you are committed and find the right people to help you make it happen. ◼


I wanted to show my children the importance of education and how it can lead to success in life, but even more so, I wanted to do something that I told myself I wasn’t capable of doing.