Imagine the best day of your life, a day when you accomplished something amazing. Remember your loved ones’ faces on that day and how their expressions reflected their pride in you. Let the memory sink in. Now, imagine that on that best day, your loved ones were not there.
Carol Price and her daughter, Mandi, faced that prospect. After years of hard work, they were ready to graduate from college — Carol from Tennessee Tech University and Mandi from Roane State Community College. The ceremonies were on the same day, which meant Carol and Mandi would not see each other, and their family would be divided on one of their best days.
Tennessee Tech and Roane State, however, refused to let that happen.
The road to graduation
The road to that best day was long for Carol and Mandi.
“My parents wanted me to go to college,” Carol said. “But, they didn’t know how to get me there.”
Carol worked at Roane State’s Cumberland County campus from 1987-1999, and Muffin Liskovec, campus director at the time, urged Carol to continue her education. Carol completed her associate’s degree in contemporary management in 2001.
In 1999, Carol accepted a job with Cumberland Good Samaritans, where she is now assistant executive director and social services coordinator. Among her duties is administration of the organization’s scholarship program. Arranging scholarships for students, she said, inspired her to continue her studies.
“I needed to practice what I preached,” she said. “I thought the more I can learn, the better I can help people I serve.”
For a decade, Carol took classes here and there, inching closer to her bachelor’s degree. Debbie Thurman with Tennessee Tech, whose office is at the Cumberland County campus, told Carol about the Fast Track 2+2 bachelor of science in Interdisciplinary Studies program. Through the program, students can earn their bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Tech but take the courses at Roane State’s campus in Crossville.
The program gave Carol the option to finish her degree without having to travel, and she went from taking steps toward her degree to taking leaps.
“I don’t know any family that has benefitted from it (the Cumberland County campus) more than ours has,” Carol said. “If I had to drive to Tech at night, I could not have done it.”
Mandi, a single mother with two sons, took college classes off and on after high school. A college education, however, seemed out of reach. Two moments, though, convinced her that she needed a college degree.
Mandi lost her driver’s license after a serious seizure and was stuck at home for months. The experience gave her time to think about her future. Then, one day, she and her 7-year-old son were looking at a hot-rod magazine.
“He told me I had to get a better job so I could get him that hot rod,” Mandi said.
The fire was lit. While working and raising two sons, Mandi devoted herself to school.
“I had a lot of amazing teachers who pushed me forward,” she said.
In the spring semester, mother and daughter were close to finishing their degrees. Then, the reality of the calendar hit. Roane State graduation and Tennessee Tech graduation were on the same day in May.
Mandi said she would skip her graduation. Carol said no, she would skip hers.
Carol won. She told her Tennessee Tech advisor, Tammy Boles, that she would miss graduation.
“She said, ‘are you kidding me?’” Carol said.
Boles, coordinator of programs for TTU’s College of Interdisciplinary Studies, recalled a graduation years ago when a community college student participated in Tennessee Tech’s commencement. She started a flurry of phone calls and emails. By the next day, the schools had arranged for Mandi to graduate from Roane State, but as part of the Tennessee Tech ceremony.
“Everybody just worked together, and it worked out perfectly so that their families could all be at one place,” Boles said.
“They recognized us at graduation,” Carol said. “To get to see my daughter graduate, that made it all the more special to me.”
“I got to watch my mom graduate, and my kids got to watch us both graduate,” Mandi said. “We both worked very hard. I want my kids to know that they can do anything.”
Mandi said she remembers her sons yelling for her as she crossed the stage. “That just made me so proud and happy,” she said.
Carol said her husband, Dan, has been their biggest supporter. To have him there, along with her whole family, was priceless.
“I was just so proud that my daughter was there getting her degree,” Carol said. “Finally, the goal I had put off for so long, I had achieved, and my Mom and Dad lived to see that, and my grandkids, and my husband.”
A bright future
Carol graduated from Tennessee Tech with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. Mandi completed her associate’s degree from Roane State in psychology.
Carol is enrolled in Tennessee Tech’s pre-MBA program; Mandi plans to major in secondary education at Tennessee Tech and then teach high school math. Mandi also wants to earn a master’s degree in psychology and teach at a community college.
“I have all praise for Roane State and Tennessee Tech,” Carol said. “They are very close to my heart.”
Carol and Mandi appreciate all the administrators who made the graduation arrangements, and Mandi is also appreciative of the assistance she received from Tammie Winningham with Vocational Rehabilitation. For Boles, Carol’s reaction was thanks enough.
“We are here for the students,” Boles said. “There was nobody that said ‘we can’t do this.’ When I told Carol, she just touched my heart. She was so excited. She seemed overjoyed. She was speechless for a minute, and she told me how proud she was of her daughter. It was all I could do to keep from crying on the phone. It’s such an easy thing for us to do, but it made such a difference. That was one of my favorite phone calls of all time.”