Mother First. Graduate Second.
By Tiffany B. Scott, SKCTC Director of Marketing & PR
Cumberland, Ky. – When you work in public relations you often find yourself on the side lines to events, ceremonies, and special occasions. With a camera in tow you set forth to capture important moments, milestones, and news worthy stories.
As the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical (SKCTC) graduation day is one of the highlights of the year. There is nothing I love more than to capture a few great shots of happy graduates and proud families.
That was how I met Brianna Massengill.
As the processional music began for the fifty-second SKCTC Commencement Ceremony, college administration and faculty entered first, clothed in elaborate regalia they captured the essence of time honored tradition. Graduates followed. Adorned in blue robes and graduation caps, some decorated with rhinestones and glitter, each reflecting the vibrant personality of the student they represented. Both groups, so important and each worthy of being the center of my camera lens.
But on May 5, nothing caught my eye like the young lady seated in the 3rd row on the far right. She was the epitome of new graduate. She blended in well with all of the others. With hands folded in her lap, she listened intently to each podium guest. She clapped at the appropriate times, nodding in agreement with each speaker. Like each of them, she was happy. A little nervous, maybe. But it was clear she felt accomplished. And, she had that right. This was her college graduation.
As the ceremony continued, I heard the faint cry of a child. It quickly became evident that someone wasn’t happy. As I turned my head, I saw a family try to calm a young boy who was becoming restless. Nothing out of the ordinary. I smiled. As a mother, I fully understand how quickly children lose interest. But what happened next is what caught me off guard.
“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy!” he called as he darted down the bleachers and made his way to the group of graduates. The young lady seated in the 3rd row, on the far right, turned her head. With one move she scooped up the little boy and sat him in her lap.
Was she upset? No. Was she embarrassed? Not at all. Her face softened and she smiled. I watched as he hugged her, stroked her hair, and even kissed her on the check. She held him close, with his arm wrapped tightly around her neck. In a gymnasium full of hundreds of people, they shared a special moment, just the two of them.
I lifted my camera and snapped picture after picture. I was drawn to this young woman, this mother, now holding her child as she waited to cross the stage to receive her college degree.
When photographing an event, some pictures turn out well, and some don’t. I spent countless hours after graduation going thru countless photographs, deleting some and editing others. When I came to the photograph of the mother and son, I stopped. The image took my breath. Not because of my much to be desired photography skills, but of what the picture itself captured. I couldn’t help but believe that this single photograph, summed up in one frame, what community college represented. I knew I had to find this young lady and share her story.
Brianna Massengill, a 26 year-old, considered herself to be a non-traditional student. In earlier years, after high school, Brianna had tried college, but it wasn’t for her. Then life happened. At the age of 24, with a husband, a new baby boy, and a full-time job that all changed.
“One day, something clicked and I wanted to go back to college,” Brianna said. “It was like I had a sudden burst of inspiration. It was then I knew I could do it. And, I wanted to do it now!”
That motivation lead Brianna to Southeast. “It was close to home and affordable. By choosing Southeast, I was able to take all of my classes completely online.” This flexibility allowed Brianna to complete assignments at her pace. Whether it was after work, after dinner, or after the baby was asleep.
Did Brianna have struggles? Absolutely. Did she make sacrifices? You bet.
“It was hard. I had to stay discipline and organized,” Brianna confessed. “But for me, it was worth it. When I chose to go back to school, I had felt like I wasted so much time by not pursuing my education earlier. But after having my son I knew I wanted to give him a better life and a chance for a better future. Southeast was the answer.”
Like most community college students, Brianna had responsibilities. But those demands didn’t hold her back. She embraced her role not only as a student and a mother, but also a wife and full-time employee. She found a balance that allowed her to achieve her dream and be the role model that her son needed.
“If I can do this, others can to. Being a mom and student was hard. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it all work, but I did.” she added.
Brianna earned her Associate of Arts degree from SKCTC but says she isn’t finished with college. This fall, she plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business.
Around the globe, Mother’s Day was celebrated this past weekend. At Southeast we want Brianna and others just like her, to know how proud we are of them. We know it isn’t always easy. But trust us, it is always worth it.
Brianna Massengill holds her 3-year old son, Storm, during her college graduation ceremony.