This article was originally published on April 27, 2020.
LaNeisha Elayne Brown said she had a small BBQ on Sunday. But they — she and her 12-year-old son — were celebrating something big: Her graduation.
Brown said her son has been with her every step of her college journey: Doing his homework quietly in the back of the college classroom while she attended evening lectures and being her “study buddy” in the Mardigian Library on the weekends.
Brown says she decided to go back to school when her son was starting grade school — she was at a low-paying job and wanted to make a better life for them. She earned her bachelor’s from UM-Dearborn in 2017 and continued through earning her Master of Science in Health Information Technology on Sunday.
“My kid is kind of a big deal. I am amazed by his selflessness and resiliency,” says the College of Education, Health, and Human Services graduate who plans to work in data analytics. “Even just the basic necessities were a daunting task to fathom achieving on my own when he was little. This graduation means we are unstoppable. This day means stability for myself and, most importantly, for my son.”
Brown, along with nearly 1100 UM-Dearborn Class of Spring 2020 degree candidates, were honored virtually on Sunday, April 26. When the commencement ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic, the university community worked together to find a way to give students a place to celebrate.
Grads, parents, university leadership, alumni and others gathered on celebratinggrads.umdearborn.edu to give advice, share memories and to recognize the Class of Spring 2020.
College of Engineering and Computer Science graduate Aaisha Khidir donned a cap and gown in front of her decorated house. College of Business student Rosa Gonzalez’s family celebrated with a traditional taco dinner — Gonzalez said her mom is a great cook and it’s her favorite homemade dish. College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters graduate Owen Ekblad, who is going to graduate school for his Ph.D. in mathematics this fall, said he had a relaxing day at home with his grandparents. Ekblad’s grandma Maureen Jackson posted on social media: “Congratulations, Owen! it amazes me what you have accomplished so far. Can't wait for this COVID-19 to be over...Love you around the block and back.”
Chancellor Domenico Grasso’s message on Sunday to the new Wolverine alumni served to let them know that their hard work and perseverance is recognized. “Although we unfortunately cannot share this great moment in person, our entire UM-Dearborn community is proud of your accomplishments and celebrates with you in spirit. Today you become graduates of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. You join a worldwide Michigan alumni family of 600,000 strong. The world that the Class of 2020 now enters is not what was anticipated. It’s a challenging time, but is also one filled with opportunity.” Several members of university leadership shared messages of encouragement and congrats to the graduates.
Student commencement speaker Cecilia P. Olvera had words of inspiration for her Class of Spring 2020 too. Olvera, the first in her family to graduate college, gave advice she’s received from her grandmother and mother: “Be the best you can be” and “never stop shooting for the stars.” She also told the graduates that earning their UM-Dearborn degree is a step in that journey of becoming your best self. And that should be recognized.
“I chose this institution not only because of the prestigious Block M on the diploma that I have dreamt of since I was a little brown girl, but also because of the natural diversity of the student population...for all the sparkle that our differences offer the world, I also want to take a moment to address the shared experiences of the graduates,” says Olvera, a Master of Public Administration and Policy graduate. “We worked our tails off to get here. You deserve to be celebrated. All your long nights, missed events, financial hardships, and the variety of emotion that has accompanied you through it all, has led you to this pinnacle moment.”
Like Olvera, Brown — who said she and her son relaxed after their celebratory Sunday barbecue — thought about the Block M since she was a child too. But life circumstances, like caring for a sick parent and raising a child, provided other important lessons that temporarily took her in a different direction.
Brown said the road she’s traveled has been difficult at times. But, looking back, she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be.
“At one time I felt stuck, hopeless, lost and overwhelmed. But I want people to know that there is always hope, always a way. Education is important — and you are worth it. It’s not always easy, but I want anyone who reads this to know it is possible. You are capable of being one of the leaders and one of the best. I will forever Go Blue!”