Like mother, like daughter: graduating together for a second time


Mother and daughter graduates Denise and Alyssa Cooley celebrated their graduation day together — for the second time. Even though they weren’t able to participate in a traditional commencement ceremony for their second round, they said taking this higher education journey together has been a fun and memorable time.

Both have earned two degrees from Newman University. In 2018, Denise earned a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies while Alyssa celebrated her Bachelor of Science in biology. Both women walked across the stage during the spring 2018 commencement ceremony as they proudly accepted their diplomas.

This year’s achievements are being celebrated a little differently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are both still elated to be sharing their special day once again, even though this time, they will be at home together watching the virtual commencement ceremony take place online from their living room couch.

As for their 2019/2020 accomplishments, Denise will finish her Master of Business Administration in leadership in August and Alyssa finished her Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education in December 2019.

Denise and Alyssa
Alyssa (left) and Denise (right) hold an encouraging sign for their fellow classmates.

At first, when they both entered programs for a second degree, they didn’t realize they would be attending the same commencement again. When they did come to that realization, excitement set in and both were looking forward to the occasion.

Unfortunately, plans changed for them and thousands of other graduates nationwide. They were a little sad when they learned there would not be an in-person ceremony so they could share the stage again.

Their education at Newman was special to both of them, and each claimed they benefited from the other’s presence.

It had been quite some time since Denise had sat inside a classroom, so picking up studying and learning habits was something she had to get back into quickly. Having her daughter on campus and at home was a big advantage to Denise as she had an instant study buddy when she needed one.

That really came in handy with the only class they actually took together at Newman — statistics.

“She had just taken a stats class in high school,” said Denise. “That was a huge help because we were able to compare notes, double-check answers, and study together and the subject was still fairly fresh in her mind.”

Alyssa also helped her mom by reviewing papers, helping with edits and other homework related issues.

Denise works full time at Newman as an administrative assistant for the Division of Arts & Letters and Humanities, which Alyssa said was even more of a benefit for her.

Attending classes full time meant being on campus during the day, and in between those classes, she was able to stop by her mom’s office to chat, relax or study. The two were often able to enjoy lunches together, and even dinners when both had evening classes scheduled.

“Because my mom worked there when I was enrolling as a freshman, she was able to tell me about the professors. This was really helpful in finding a good fit but also I knew more about them before sitting in a class with them. She also sat down with me so we could do my four-year plan right away.”

The pair has much in common.

“We both love sports,” said Denise.”So we really enjoyed attending games together at the university. We also are both really into true crime and murder mysteries. And we both took different classes that had to do with that topic.”

Alyssa added, “We love Jill Fort and we both enjoyed the criminal justice classes we took. I took a class called ‘Killer Communication’ and Mom would always want me to tell her what I learned. She was jealous the class wasn’t offered at night so she could take it. But she took a different class at night that I couldn’t take. So we just shared with each other what was going on in each of the classes. That was a lot of fun.”

As for what is next, Denise plans on staying at the university as a full-time employee. Alyssa has already landed a job at Wichita Southeast High School as a biology teacher. She said her first year teaching has not quite turned out as planned.

“This online teaching is a lot more difficult than you can imagine. I am really excited for this to be over and to get back into the classroom with my students,” said Alyssa.

In the end, they feel blessed to have gone through their higher education journeys together. The bond they already held has grown closer because of their experience and they will cherish the many memories they made during this time of their lives.



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