There are no cue cards to feed Denise Seegobin her lines. There are no stage lights above her, no director or camera operator in front of her. There is also no canned laughter that plays after she cracks a joke.
Nevertheless, the story of a tough-minded lifelong New Yorker who builds a career on Wall Street before she meets a good old boy from Louisiana via online fantasy football, then gets engaged and plans to pick up and move from Jersey to Cajun country, and into a law career is the stuff of sitcom gold.
"I play fantasy football all of the time," Seegobin explained. "He (Brent Sillavan) was in a league that I joined on Yahoo. I also play with friends, but this was an open league. We've been seeing each other now for about five years. It's been absolutely crazy."
Seegobin, 45, is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice online program at Louisiana State University of Alexandria, although she already has two master's degrees in management and finance from Pace University and a bachelor's degree in management and industrial relations from New York University.
The couple plan to marry as soon as Seegobin is able to sell her house and join Sullivan at his home in Alexandria, although they no longer have to square off with one another in fantasy football.
"Brent stopped playing," Seegobin said. "He did not like having to deal with catching up with the players each week. He would rather enjoy watching one NFL team and one college football team than having to deal with what I go through on a Sunday.
"I'm the one who has DirecTV, watching eight games at one time starting at 1 o'clock on Sunday and yelling at the TV. He says, 'What game are you yelling at?" I say, 'I can't stop to tell you right now because I have to watch what this one is doing.'"
The transition to living in Louisiana should be fairly smooth since she has visited Alexandria numerous times.
"It's a perfect change of pace," Seegobin said. "At this point in my life, I needed some kind of change. It's great for me. I'm looking forward to it. I've had nothing but good experiences, except for when I'm down there and need something done, Brent and his family say, 'You've got to be nice. You can't yell at anybody in the stores.' I go, 'Wait a minute. What do you mean you can't yell at anybody in the stores?' they say, 'Oh, no. You have to be super nice.'
"Unless they want something done right away and someone's giving them a hard time, then they go, 'Okay, you can go New York on them now.' They sent me into the Home Depot to deal with the people when they can't deal with them and get what they want. Then, I go New York on them."
In addition to her job as a program coordinator at Lehman College, which she has had for 14 years, Seegobin is still involved with the stock market as a co-chair of the Financial Women's Association undergraduate scholarship committee and Wall Street exchange program, which she has done for 20 years.
She and Sullivan did thorough research before she decided she would move into criminal law once they were married and she had completed the LSUA online degree program. Seegobin has an extensive background working for financial firm KPMG and is also an arbitrator and mediator with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
"Criminal law seems to be where the expertise is going to be since I've done so much fraud work and so much securities and exchange work," she said. "It would seem to be the natural progression. That may be it, but it might change.
"There are so many law firms around that need people, so we thought that would be a good opportunity. There might also be opportunities at the college itself. I hope all of this will lead to somebody knowing about something where maybe I'll start in the field or work in the courts. I would love to do that. Anything in that area that will use my expertise, I can apply it."
Seegobin chose LSUA's online criminal justice program not only so she would be ready for a law career in Louisiana but also because the university is located in Sullivan's hometown.
"We found that Louisiana is the only state that follows French law — Napoleonic Law is the basis," she said. "I could take the courses here in New York, but some of the laws wouldn't apply when I get down to Louisiana. I would have to take additional courses, so it was better just to do it at LSUA and take it all online. The degree would be fine to practice in Louisiana and comparable if I wanted to take the practice anywhere else."
One of the biggest challenges Seegobin faced in her return to higher education was enrolling in a bachelor's degree program with two master's degree programs completed.
"When we started the whole process, LSUA officials said, 'You do know you're doing this backwards, right? You should have gotten the B.S. before,'" she said. "I say, 'But, I wasn't interested in criminal justice at the time — it was finance and management.' It took about a month to get all of the paperwork to match it up with all of the things I was going to have to do to complete this degree. It was a monumental task."
Learning the Ropes
Once Seegobin got going in the criminal justice program, some of the courses allowed her to look at different areas from a totally new perspective. Of the eight courses she has taken so far, CJUS 3215: Juvenile Delinquency has been one of her favorites.
"I had never dealt with juvenile delinquency before," she said. "It's true there are a lot of reasons kids become juvenile delinquents. Unfortunately, as a society, we don't have enough programs to help children. The course was one that I didn't think I would get a lot out of, but it turned out to be very interesting and very appropriate."
Seegobin, who plans to graduate in 2019, looks forward to taking some of the elective courses that pertain specifically to her background.
"LSUA has done a really good job helping with my schedule," she said. "I'm going to take biology and ethics in criminal justice next semester. That fits in with what I used to do with fraud. There will be more electives in fraud investigation. I'll be doing ethics relationships and ethics leadership, which I think will be interesting courses. I've been in court for fraud cases, but I don't have the degree in it."
Once she got back into school mode, Seegobin began to thoroughly enjoy the convenience of the online format.
"It is working out well," she said. "The last couple of semesters, I managed to do the work and keep up with it with the flexible schedule. Online is accelerated, which means the work is in seven-week intervals instead of an entire semester. That can sometimes be a little bit of pressure, but I've had my schedule worked out a certain way since I started.
"I travel from New Jersey to New York to work, so when I'm on the train, that's study time just like it was in high school. It took a semester for my brain to rewire for school. When I was in grad school, I worked full-time at KPMG in fraud consulting. The two master's degrees only took two years because I was doing them full-time. Doing the work is not the problem. School has always been my natural, calming place."
Meant to Be
Although Seegobin is now in a great place in her life, she overcame plenty of heartbreak and tragedy along the way. In a span of about a decade, both of her parents, her younger sister and her best friend all died in separate incidents, which led to Seegobin developing chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus.
"Everybody says it's a miracle I'm still alive," she said. "All of the stress took a big toll on my immune system. We double-checked with the doctors before I enrolled. They said, 'Okay, if you get over-stressed, you'll have to take a semester off.' Everything gets watched by me and Brent and the doctors. It's definitely a group effort for me to be back in school. Everything seems to be working out."
There was also a silver lining to all of the pain she has endured — it appeared in the form of her future husband.
"My parents and my younger sister had always been my focus," Seegobin said. "I'm the middle child. I always believed I was going to be the one to take care of my parents, and I was fine with that. Getting married was never in my realm of thinking. It wasn't until after they passed away when I started thinking, 'Now I guess it's time to focus on my personal life,' and Brent came along at the time.
"I say to him all of the time, 'If my parents or my younger sister were alive, we would probably not be together because they would come first.' It's a scary thing to say, but it had to happen this certain way for it to work out this way. It's an interesting thing."
Seegobin believes that what strengthened her relationship with Sullivan is the fact that they both waited until later in life to get married.
"Our counselor, a pastor we are going to use for the wedding ceremony, said 'It probably worked out that way because you both had to get through your career and get it organized without having to deal with somebody and not have that relationship work out later," she said. "Getting married later is actually a big benefit to you guys that a lot of people don't see.' It was an interesting perspective."
Fan for Life
Seegobin has been a sports fan since she was a child. In fact, she still uses that passion to help herself in school and, of course, fantasy football.
"I don't study in a typical way," she said. "I'm not the quiet studier who needs a corner. I study while I'm watching games. I've done that since I was five years old. It's not a traditional study method, but I've managed to do well with it. I'm typing while I'm watching football. That's how I grew up."
Although she never planned to be back in school to earn another bachelor's degree, Seegobin thrives on learning and self-improvement.
"You have to balance, but everything is a balancing act," she said. "If you can spend a couple of hours reading and learning something else ... you always have room to grow. The great thing about life is you don't ever have to stop learning. There's always new things to learn, new technology that comes out."
Now, Seegobin is eager to star in the "wedding episode" before she completes her second bachelor's degree and embarks on a new career in what will become her new home state.
"We talked for about six months before Brent said, 'Why don't you come on down and visit?'" I thought, 'Okay, I need to get away for a little bit anyway.' I went down for a weekend and met all of his family. They were just great. That's how it went from there. He has his own electrical, air conditioning and plumbing business. He's totally on the opposite side of what I do, which makes it interesting."
Cue the applause.
Learn more about the LSUA online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program.
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