PULLMAN — After taking a 31-year hiatus from her studies, Tonya Williams finally earned her degree from Chicago State University this semester — an accomplishment she finished along with her youngest son who also graduated at a ceremony Thursday.
Williams, 48, who earned a degree in psychology, said she thought about dropping out of school plenty of times after returning in 2010. She was older than every student in her class, except one.
"I had a class with a 75-year-old man who was smart as a whip. Seeing him in class encouraged me to stick it out, and I am glad I did," said the Chatham resident.
Her graduation day was even more exciting when she learned she earned a top grade in college algebra, a course she and her son — Aaron, 22 — first took together in 2010. But Tonya Williams struggled, and dropped the course at the time.
She took it again because "I had to take the class in order to graduate," she said. "When my instructor called to tell me I got an A, I could not believe it."
Wendell Hutson joined DNAinfo Radio earlier this week to discuss the family graudation:
Her husband Kevin said he was proud of her and the couple's three sons for their accomplishments. Their 23-year-old son Evan graduated Saturday from Eastern Illinois University, while their 29-year-old son Kenny is an entrepreneur.
"Now I can be a stay-at-home dad, and they can go work and pay the bills," Kevin Williams joked. "My wife and I raised our sons with the mindset that getting your education is a priority and a necessity."
This fall, Aaron Williams will return to Chicago State to pursue a master's in higher education while also playing out his final year of eligibility for basketball, with the hopes of playing professionally.
"[If] basketball does not work out, I am getting a master's degree to become an athletic director," he said.
Tracy Dildy, men's head basketball coach at Chicago State, applauded Aaron Williams' academic achievement.
"I'm proud of Aaron and all of our players who graduated today. This is a great day to celebrate the dedication of both Aaron and his mother," Dildy said. "I'm looking forward to Aaron finishing his eligibility next year with a degree already in hand."
Also at Tuesday's ceremony, led by Chicago State President Wayne Watson, were Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and 17th Ward Ald. Latasha Thomas.
More than 1,500 people, including the 800 graduates, gave a standing ovation when another pair of graduates, Wilbert Taylor Jr. and Tia Tatum, walked across the stage to receive their bachelor's degrees.
Taylor, who earned a bachelor's in criminal justice, was a 19-year-old student at Southern Illinois University in 2005 when he was shot in the head and paralyzed while in Chicago. Tatum, who received her bachelor's in psychology, is blind and walks with a seeing-eye dog.
"People had written me off when I was shot. They thought I would not make it, but I did," said Taylor. "And to be able to finish college despite my setback lets me know that anything in life is possible."
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