Traditions have to start somewhere, and Joann Moore thought she might just as well be the source of this one. After all, as the matriarch of the family, it was her right. And though it had symbolically been done for her, she was adding a physical representation to it and setting it in stone.
The tradition’s seeds were planted when Joann’s daughter, Angela Berry-Hammett, attended OU-Arizona’s Phoenix campus to earn two master’s degrees – one in human resources (’04) and the other in professional counseling (’08). It was watered when Angela’s daughter, De’Trice Gray, followed her mother to Ottawa University and earned her BA in Human Services in 2009 and enrolled in the MA in Professional Counseling program.
Then, both daughter and granddaughter urged Joann, who is in her 70s, to become the third generation in their family to earn a degree from OU. As a cosmetologist for more than 30 years, education wasn’t foreign to Joann – she had been taking continuing education courses her whole career at a local community college and had amassed 60 credit hours. She was also a cosmetology instructor and owned her own salon. She had even written instruction manuals. But formal college was out of Joann’s comfort zone.
“I’m too old,” she protested. “I can’t do math after all these years; I won’t fit in with the younger students.” But all of her excuses fell on deaf ears.
“My mother is one of the smartest people I know,” said Angela. “Even at age two, I remember her taking at least an hour every day to read to us, and later to make us read. And no students I had encountered were writing manuals. I told my mom that she could easily do everything today’s students were doing.” So at Angela’s insistence, Joann attended an open house at Ottawa University’s Phoenix campus.
The advisors at OU-Arizona immediately put Joann’s mind at ease, assuring her that she would have a head start on her degree because most of her credits would transfer. She was also relieved to learn that she could major in communication and avoid those dreaded math classes. And when she found out that there were other “seasoned” adults like her who were pursuing their degree, she was hooked.
All along the way, her daughter and granddaughter cheered her on. “They gave me the energy I needed to get it done,” said Joann, whose husband, Commodore, was also a huge support. “I didn’t want to let them down.” And she didn’t.
Joann finished her degree in December of 2011 and waited anxiously for five months to attend her commencement ceremony – though not in Phoenix. Joann chose to return to Kansas City, her hometown, to attend The College ceremony on May 5 so that the majority of her family could participate in. The few family members who lived in Arizona rented a van and drove to Kansas for the event.
“I have a lot of grandkids,” said Joann, “and I wanted them to see me walk across that stage. I wanted to be an inspiration to them and be an example of how important education is.”
It was that desire to be an inspiration to her grandchildren that led Joann to initiate the new family tradition in front of at least 50 family members and friends during her graduation party. “I took my tassel and gave it my grandson who is in 10th grade,” said Joann. “He will be the next in the family to graduate from high school. I told him that this is a contract between him and me and the rest of the family that he will go to college. Once he graduates and enrolls in college, he is required to give it to the next grandchild to graduate high school.” She did the same with her cap and the grandchild second-in-line to graduate.
With a 70+ grandmother who earned her BA and is enrolled in a master’s program, an aunt with a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and a cousin who earned her BA as a single mom and is enrolled in a master’s program, living up to “the tassel tradition” is not an option. Which is exactly what Joann was going for.
Now working on her MA in Education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction, Joann has very specific plans for how she will use her education. Her plans come from a very personal experience – she is a breast cancer survivor. Her daughter, Denise, however, didn’t win her battle against the disease and died 10 years ago. Denise’s son, Olimade, was 11, and Joann raised him from that point on.
Already a volunteer with the American Cancer Society and a certified prosthetic fitter, Joann plans to use her education to write cosmetology curriculum geared toward caring for cancer victims. She may also be an instructor.
“Age is only a number in your head,” said Joann. “It’s not an indicator of what kind of student you will be. In fact, taking classes at OU gave me a new burst of energy. I was never uncomfortable and never felt threatened because of my age. Instead, I was empowered to go on to more education and to share my knowledge with others.”
Now that’s a tradition worth passing on.
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