BY CAROL ROEHM
HOME GARDENS —
This time of year it is common for families to celebrate a loved one’s graduation from high school or college.
One Home Gardens family will celebrate the educational achievement of not one, but two of its members: a mother and son who will participate Friday in Danville Area Community College’s commencement ceremony. They are among 430 who will graduate that day from DACC.
“In our whole family, we’re the only two to have graduated from college,” 46-year-old Tina Pierce said. “We probably will have a party, but we haven’t been planning.”
Pierce and her son, Ken Smoot, 25, admit the road to attaining a higher education has been long … and not without some detours along the way.
This was particularly true for Pierce, who has attempted to earn a college education a number of times in the last two decades.
Pierce, who graduated from Westville High School in 1985, had good intentions when she enrolled at DACC in 1986 but ended up dropping out when she gave birth to her son a couple of years later. She eventually returned to school to earn two certificates in word processing and to be an office assistant in 1989.
However, in today’s world of ever-changing technology, Pierce realized her 1980s office skills were considered antiquated. And even though she had been working in retail “just to pay the bills,” she longed for a professional career.
Pierce started to think about going back to school to learn a new skill set and pursue a different career, and that time came in 2007, after her son graduated from her alma mater, Westville High School.
“I went back to school after he graduated high school, but just in 21 years things had evolved,” she said. “He had to help me in math.”
After nine semesters and two attempts, Pierce admitted she couldn’t pass DACC’s rigorous nursing program.
Undeterred, Pierce pondered what she could do to make the best of the situation.
“I thought, ‘What can I do with all these credits I have?’” she said. “I knew an associate’s degree would open a lot of doors.”
Pierce ended up pursuing an associate’s degree in general studies and a certificate to be a medical office assistant.
After one semester at DACC following his graduation from Westville High School, Smoot worked at McLane’s for four years. When an injury sidelined him from his work at McLane’s, he learned through the unemployment office that the Job Training Partnership (JTP) would cover part of his tuition if he returned to school.
In spring 2011, Smoot chose to study computer programming at DACC.
“I wanted to make the computer do something,” he said.
Completing an internship was a graduation requirement for Smoot and landing a paid internship at NEXLAN was even more of a bonus.
Smoot, however, said he doesn’t regret his time at McLane’s.
“I felt like I had grown up while I was at McLane’s,” he said.
“But it’s been a weird transition from McLane’s to college life to business life,” he added. “It’s been an adventure going back to school.”
“For me, too,” Pierce concurred.
Pierce and her son have a close bond, so the two claim there were never any embarrassing “mom” moments on campus for Smoot. They shared a couple of the same instructors — Glenda Boling and Paulette Eaton — but were never in the same class at the same time.
The duo also had to share the same vehicle, so Pierce said, “I would take him to class,” but that didn’t bother Smoot in the least.
“We met once in a while for lunch at the student union,” Pierce said, trying to think of the times when their paths would cross on campus.
In fact, the mother and son see more of each other at the home they share in Home Gardens along with Smoot’s fiancé, Kala; Kala’s father; and Pierce’s boyfriend.
Although Pierce finished her studies at DACC in December, she is going to walk across the stage with her son during commencement ceremonies on Friday. Smoot will receive an associate’s degree in application development.
“It’s a milestone,” she said. “It’s my privilege to walk the stage.”
Smoot pointed out that his mother will receive her degree before he does.
“I’m jealous your name comes before me,” he joked.