In college graduation, two’s company, three’s even better
Mother, son and daughter attend different colleges, study different majors before graduating in same month
Partners at graduation, partners in school.
For mother, daughter and son, last month's college graduation ceremonies capped years of studies.
When Linda Irwin, who graduated from the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, learned her ceremony was set for the same time as her daughter, Joy Irwin's graduation from Avila University, she talked to college officials who arranged for her to graduate May 13 in Avilla's ceremony with her daughter.
Meanwhile, among family and friends in the audience was Linda's son, Mike Irwin, who graduated May 6 from MidAmerica Nazarene University.
Like all families who face challenges every day, the years the three were in college were no different. Linda and Joy suffered -- and have recovered from -- serious health problems. Joy's fiance broke up with her. And Mike and his wife, Angela, were in the midst of parenting an infant son.
Despite everything going on during this time, Joy said, the family is closer than ever before.
"I urge people who are going through struggles to gather strength from people who are positive around you and to keep pressing on," said the 24-year-old Joy. "I really think that it's important for anyone to know it can be done."
Joy, a radiology technologist at a medical imaging facility in Independence, termed her college graduation a "once-in-a-lifetime moment."
"Not a lot of mothers and daughters share that experience together," Joy said. "And it was just good having her right by my side because she helped me through so much."
Joy said she and her mother are close.
"We're best friends," Joy said. "Anyway that was nice, having my mother-friend by my side."
Mike Irwin, 34, received his bachelor of science in management and human relations. Previously, he earned an associate degree in occupational therapy.
Mike and Angela live near Tonganoxie with their 2-year-old son, Michael.
Other family members live in the Tonganoxie area -- Mike and Joy's grandmother, Florence Hitzeman, and their grandparents, Bill and Alberta Irwin.
Mike works at ScriptPro, a pharmaceutical robotics company in Mission.
Graduating the same month as his mother and sister was a great experience, Mike said. He noted, he actually completed credits for graduation in December, but since there wasn't a formal winter graduation, he went through the ceremony in May.
While pursuing his degree, Mike continued to work full time.
"That was something, have a 3-month-old and trying to study and go to school in the evenings," Mike said. "... But I knew if I didn't do it then, I was never going to do it."
And, he said, things were in alignment. His boss, Al Somers, had taken the course earlier and recommended it to him.
And of course, it was helpful to be in school at the same time as his mother and sister.
"It was probably good for all of us because we kind of supported each other and I'd read their papers and they'd read my papers," Mike said. "It was a good feeling. We could share stories about professors and things like that."
Continuing her education
Linda and her husband, Mike Irwin, live in Olathe. Mike was ordained as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Currently, he's working in telecommunications.
Linda, who grew up on a farm north of Tonganoxie, is the daughter of Florence and the late Charles Hitzeman.
Linda, 55, graduated cum laude from USM with a bachelor's degree in applied psychology.
In the late 1960s, she had taken classes at Kansas University and Kansas City Kansas Community College, where she earned an associate's degree.
"It was kind of a personal goal to finish my degree that I had started before I had started raising my children," Linda said.
Now, it's likely she'll return to school, to study toward a master's degree in counseling psychology at USM. "I'm very interested in the helping professions -- working with people with mental health issues, substance abuse, those kinds of needs," Linda said.
Her graduation day is one she will remember. During part of the time she and Joy were in school, Joy suffered health problems that temporarily prevented her from driving and even attending classes. Linda and her husband, Mike, drove Joy to her classes. And, when Joy was unable to attend school, Linda would go to her classes for her and tape-record the lectures. Of course, Linda, who also had health challenges of her own during this time, also was studying toward her own degree.
So, that made graduation even sweeter.
"That was a real high moment, a real special moment, because we had had quite a lot of challenges," Linda said of their graduation day.