Janet Blakemore always wanted to get her college degree. But sometimes life throws you a curve and your personal aspirations are put on hold while you take care of the things that are most important—such as family.
Janet was a single mom to daughter Holly, who grew up in a home where education was important, especially since some of her relatives attended Tennessee State University, and she witnessed first hand all that the university had to offer.
“She would hear all the stories that my mom and her sister would tell about their experience,” said Janet. “She basically grew up on campus attending parades and football games, and she just knew it was the school for her.”
Janet, who works for the state of Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, would do anything to make sure her daughter had the opportunity to attend TSU. Divorced when her daughter was just a year old, she worked more than one job, taking on modeling assignments at locations around Tennessee.
“I wanted Holly to have the opportunities I never had,” she said. “I tried to instill in her a strong work ethic, that anything was possible if you put your mind to it. I told her I would work so she could get work.”
Because of the nature of their relationship, Janet and Holly became extremely close said Janet, so close in fact, even though they were mother and daughter, they were also like best friends. “It was almost a oneness of spirit that was made of deep devotion, sacrifice and pain.”
Holly eventually was accepted, and graduated from TSU in 2003 from the College of Health Sciences with a degree in ‘speech language pathology.’ She decided to pursue her graduate degree almost immediately.
Janet was extremely supportive of her daughter as Holly worked her way through graduate school. But she always had a nagging feeling that she wished she had completed her degree.
“I had gone to business school but it wasn’t the same,” she said. “Something was just missing.”
At one point Holly became frustrated and stressed while completing the last few classes on her master’s degree in speech pathology. Janet made a promise to her daughter that she never thought Holly would remember.
“I told her to finish what she started and if she did, I would go back to school and finish my degree,” Janet said, chuckling. “I never in a million years thought she would remember.”
But she did, and a promise is a promise.
“We have come from a long line of women who have been successful, and I was determined to make sure she had the same opportunity she provided for me,” said Holly. “On graduation day in 2006, I looked at her and told her, ‘your turn.’”
Janet enrolled in 2009 in the ‘urban studies’ program in the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs, and found herself in an unfamiliar position—back in the classroom with ‘kids’ half her age.
“I walked mom to class the first day,” said Holly. “It was such a role reversal. She didn’t want to admit to it, but she was really nervous and I wanted to be there for her just as she had been for me. It was one of my proudest moments with my mom.”
The past four years have not always been easy, Janet said. She has dealt with personal set backs, finding the time to be a full-time student, and dealing with the demands of work. Everywhere she went she was loaded down with books so she could study, including her second job and the beauty shop.
“I’ll admit, at 55 years old it has been a tough journey,” Janet said. “I started out slow taking six hours and eventually built up to 12-18 hours, which was really tough. But I’ve loved every minute of it. Without the support of my daughter, the faculty at the university, and my supervisor at work, this would not have been possible.”
According to Janet, graduation on Dec. 14 validated all her hard work, the negative criticism she received, and most importantly, that she kept her word.
‘This has been such a blessing to me,” she said. “By obtaining this degree, it validates me in a family that believes in education. I will now be a part of the TSU family.”
But more importantly, it validates her relationship with her daughter.
“It’s all about promises made and promise kept, she said. “There is nothing more important than that.”