Two degrees, one passion: Spanish graduate Hanna Lyon resets and finds her purpose

by | Jan 3, 2022

Lyon returned to UMSL five years after receiving her BSBA and earned her second bachelor's in Spanish while raising her daughter, Mila.
Spanish major Hanna Lyon with daughter Mila

Hanna Lyon returned to UMSL five years after completing her degree in business administration and earned her second bachelor’s in Spanish while raising her daughter, Mila. (Photo by Augustine Jennewein)

Hanna Lyon started out as a “traditional” student entering the University of Missouri–St. Louis right out of high school. But her journey has been anything but conventional with twists, unexpected turns and soul searching.

Five years after earning her first bachelor’s degree in business administration, and a year after giving birth to her daughter while serving in the U.S. Army, Lyon came back to school to pursue a personal passion.

Lyon didn’t have the same direction when she started school the first time. She chose to attend UMSL because it was in a convenient location, centralized between members of her family, and she knew she could receive a quality education. But she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study.

She made choices based on what she thought would be practical.

“I was young, you know?” Hanna said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was doing nursing for a year. And then I started accounting. Then I was like, ‘Well, I don’t like nursing. I don’t like science.’ You know how you change your major a million times when you don’t know what you want to do.”

After a number of diverted directions, Lyon honed in on her business major. But that also wound up being unsatisfying. She wasn’t engaged with her coursework.

“I just kind of did it to check the box?” she said. “That’s what your parents expect – for you to get a degree.”

In the summer before her senior year, Lyon worked as an intern at Scottrade. She was offered a paid position after graduation, but it never felt like an authentic fit. She eventually fell into a malaise, feeling like she didn’t have a purpose and knowing she wanted more.

“I was just desperate for a change.” Lyon said. “I was working in a call center and not caring about my job. I had used all my vacation and sick days by February.”

Lyon turned to the military, following the lead of her older brother, who is 13 years her elder and whom she reveres. She hoped it would give her life more meaning.

She spent four and a half years in the service – first stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland and ending her service at Fort Hood in Texas. She started out as an intelligence analyst before shifting to other roles.

“I did a lot of administration and a lot of management type of jobs, managing the soldiers, our company and all the paperwork,” she said.

After Lyon’s daughter was born in 2019, it became difficult to continue her service.

“I joined the military thinking it was going to change my life,” she said. “I was going to stay in. I thought I was going to have a career for 20 years, then retire. And then having Mila, everything changed.”

“It’s just really hard as a single parent. I was just stuck in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near my family or anyone who could help me. I would have to bring my daughter at 3 or 4 in the morning to do work-related stuff with me. They always say if the army wanted you to have a family, they would issue you one, like the rest of your gear,” she joked. “They don’t make it very family friendly sometimes.”

With another aspiration not meeting expectations, Lyon had to figure out her next steps. They led her back to UMSL.

After leaving the military, she returned to St. Louis and re-enrolled in school, five years after earning her first degree. Only this time, she decided to forgo practicality and pursue a major she really enjoyed. Lyon has always loved other cultures and languages, and began studying Spanish when she was 11 years old. So, she resolved to pursue her second degree in the language.

Despite the challenges of being a single mom, she has excelled.

“Overall, I would say it’s been a great experience,” said Lyon. “I really lacked motivation. I barely graduated that first time. But the second time around, I had a clear focus of what I wanted.”

What she wants now is an opportunity to use what she’s learned in and out of the classroom.

Lyon recently finished up a contract position with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where she worked in counterterrorism.

After graduating, she is looking ahead with optimism. Lyon would like to work at a U.S. embassy in a Spanish-speaking region.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I feel better. I feel proud. I loved UMSL, especially the teachers. The Spanish department is amazing.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd