Obtaining a college degree is a family affair for Jennifer Morris, her half-sister Claudette Green and her niece Dionne Green.
The three women, students of Concordia University Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Midtown Center, on Saturday marked a momentous occasion together, as they participated in CUW’s mid-year commencement ceremony at its Mequon campus.
They’re not the first in the family – nor will they be the last – to earn their degrees from Concordia. Seven others have attended or will attend Concordia’s Midtown Center, the bulk of them graduating within two to three years of one another.\
Older sister Claudette Grant, who started classes first and graduated last year, was the trailblazer, says 47-year-old Jennifer.
“It’s like a positive peer pressure, competition kinda sorta,” Jennifer said. “Once we saw Claudette (Grant) ran with it, and cried and fought her way through and made it, yeah, we wanted ours, too.”
On Saturday, Jennifer graduated with an associate degree in Criminal Justice Management. She’ll continue on next semester at CUW’s Midtown Center to obtain a master’s degree, and plans to participate again in commencement exercises in May.
Claudette Green received a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. Her daughter, 27-year-old Dionne, graduated with her master’s in Business Administration.
“It’s really exciting for me because never in a million years did I ever, ever think I would graduate with a bachelor’s degree,” said Claudette Green. “There were many times I felt like I could give up, but I realized the world is changing and I thought, ‘Why can’t I change, too?’”
Added to the mix is Jennifer’s 22-year-old daughter, Jeanine Morris, who is aiming to graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree, and Claudette Grant’s daughter, Pheona Welsh, who graduated a year ago with a health care management degree. Jennifer’s 17-year-old daughter is hoping to join the crew as well; she intends on applying to attend Concordia next fall.
Jennifer and Claudette Green say it was Concordia’s schedule – one-night-a-week classes – and its accelerated program that drew them to the university.
Jennifer says some of the credit for her achievement goes to her parents’ model of hard work. Her father was a successful farmer in Jamaica, who worked hard to earn a living.
In the early 1980s, her mother immigrated to America to find a new life for their family, initially leaving behind eight of her 13 children because she couldn’t afford to bring them with her immediately. She held down jobs in America in order to earn a living and gradually bring the others over, too, said Jennifer.
“They both instilled hard work and never-give-up (attitudes) and determination in us,” Jennifer said. “They wanted what’s best for us and it’s still in us. Then in turn, we wanted the best for our kids.”
Claudette Green, who was born in Jamaica to a different mother, has been living in America for the past nearly 30 years. She sought a new adventure and moved to Milwaukee in 1987.
“You get bored in some places and you just say like, ‘Let me try a different route or location, and see what it’s like,’” Claudette said.
The trio of Saturday grads gathered at Irie Palace Authentic Jamaican Cuisine after commencement to celebrate their achievement. They were joined by dozens of family members and friends, many of them members of Bethel Tabernacle Worship Center, a congregation in Milwaukee made up predominantly of native Jamaicans.
Jennifer says she and her family have been the motivation for some of their friends to attend Concordia as well – friends who have seen how the women’s knowledge grew as a result.
“If Concordia can change us, then they (friends) realize that they can come to school here and change as well,” said Jennifer. “It has an impact and it’s making a difference. So, it’s not only a school, but it’s a community as well.”