Mother and son graduate together

Adam Wright and Adam Wright

Life doesn’t always work out as planned, just ask Cindy Lilly.

Ever since she was a young girl growing up in Toledo, Lilly just assumed she would go to college. She wanted to at least earn a two-year associates degree just like her older sister — the only one in the family who continued their education.

She especially wanted to make her father proud. Lilly’s dad always dreamed of going to college but was unable because of a debilitating illness. His new dream was to see each of his children earn the degree he coveted.

But as it usually does, life had other plans.

In 1975, when she was a senior in high school, Lilly got pregnant. And at the Catholic school where she attended, that sort of thing was more than frowned upon.

Fortunately, she was carrying late in her last semester of high school and was able to graduate before anyone noticed her pregnancy. She married the father and in 1976, Daniel was born.

Although her life hadn’t gone the way she wanted, Lilly had no intentions of giving up on her goal.

“I just wanted to go to college,” she said.

After high school, money was tight for Lilly and her new family. Her mother and father helped as much as they could, but she and her husband were mostly on their own.

While her husband worked, Lilly raised Daniel. She eventually forgot about her dreams of going to college and instead envisioned the day when she could watch Daniel walk down the aisle in his cap and gown. As her son grew older, however, Lilly wanted to take that walk herself even more.

Once again, though, life happened. When Daniel was 3, Lilly gave birth to twin boys. Her husband’s salary was no longer sufficient and Lilly got a job at a nearby restaurant.

Five years later, Lilly had another son. College was permanently put on hold.

Although her dream had not been fulfilled, Lilly lived vicariously through Daniel. When her son was a senior in high school, he received college credit for taking classes at Northwest State Community College in Ohio. After he graduated, he officially enrolled at NSCC, eventually earning an associate’s degree in accounting.

At the time, Lilly was working as a gas station attendant down the street from her home. After almost a decade in the same position, Lilly heard that a manager was quitting and that she could fill the spot if she had an associate’s degree.

She jumped at the chance.

“I saw how well Danny was doing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why not?'”

At 37 years old, Lilly had no idea what to expect from college. After being away from school for so long, would she remember even the most basic skills?

“I started with short goals,” she explained. At first, she just wanted to see if she could last for one year. Once that was accomplished, she continued her education, eventually earning an associate’s degree in business management. A few weeks later, she was promoted to manager at the gas station.

Daniel was also having great success in his education. After earning his associate’s degree, he majored in accounting at Bowling Green State University while also working full time at a computer repair facility.

Lilly was so proud of her son, but she began to wonder if she too should continue her education. She and her husband had recently divorced, so it would be the perfect time to accomplish everything she had always dreamed.

In 2002, she enrolled at the University as a human resources major. This December, mother and son will be graduating together.

It has not always been easy for Lilly and her son. She lost her job at the gas station because of scheduling conflicts with school, and it took Daniel nearly 10 years to graduate because he could only afford to enroll part time.

But they both admit it was all worth it. At 47, Lilly is currently interviewing at the Footlocker Corporation, and Daniel has submitted his resume to several major credit card companies.

Daniel is also expecting his first child in July. Although the sex of the baby is still unknown, Lilly said that one thing is certain. Years from now, that child will continue the Lilly family’s new tradition when he or she graduates from college — just like dad and grandma.