While still stationed in Washington, Allison and her husband had to make some choices about their lives, and who would take care of Siena if one or both of them were deployed; Allison chose to leave the Air Force.

"I had proved my point," she said. "I did it. I learned about mechanics, I knew I could succeed in that environment, and once you have a family, your priorities shift. Now, I had the opportunity to make sure this amazing little person I'd brought into the world would be cared for, and that became my main focus.

"I thought, I'm going to do the housewife thing now, and I'm going to do it justice. ... I'm going to do this right, because my own upbringing wasn't that great."

The family moved; William, a master sergeant, was transferred to South Carolina in 2002, and then toFt. Meadein 2005. As Siena grew up and became more independent, Allison realized it was time for her to go back to school.

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"My life had been so much about my husband and my daughter," Allison said. "I always wanted to go back, wanted to contribute to society, but as long as my family was the focus, I kept putting it off. Once my daughter was older, I realized I could focus on myself if I wanted."

Allison enrolled in HCC in the fall of 2008; several months later, William was deployed to South Korea for a year. Allison took her time in getting her degree, she said, because her family is still a main focus for her.

The choice to go into international affairs was gradual, Allison said, and perhaps fitting. As an art student at MICA, she used her heart. As a mechanic, she used her hands. Now, she wants to use her head. Allison said she hopes to further her education and eventually become an intelligence or foreign policy analyst.

"This is viable for the area, and I had to find out what else I was good at," Allison said. "I knew I was good at art, but what else could I challenge myself with? What haven't I done yet? This was the next challenge."

Allison graduated from HCC with a 3.9 GPA, a member of Phi Theta Kappa — the national honor society for community colleges — and a founding member of HCC's Student Veteran's Group. She said she has no plans to stop challenging herself.

That was a common theme among HCC's graduation speakers Tuesday.

"The homework assignment for the rest of your, should you choose to accept it, is: Don't be a visitor on the Planet Earth," Helen Mitchell, commencement speaker and HCC professor of philosophy and director of women's studies, told the graduates. "Stay curious, ask questions about everything ... as you learn new things, weave them into the tapestry of wisdom and knowledge you already have."

It's advice Allison has already taken to heart.

"I love knowledge," she said last week. "I love learning how things work. I love to feel like I know a little bit more about the world than I did."