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A grad party for mom and dad

Rishun Beasley’s children aren’t the only ones grabbing their backpacks each weekday morning.

After prepping her kids for the school day ahead before leaving her home in Dallas, Beasley grabs her own backpack. For the past four years, she’s driven her three oldest children to school before the first bell rings, and then set out for her hourlong commute to Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

She does it all by herself.

“It’s a struggle having to constantly switch from student mode to mommy mode,” Beasley said. “But it’s nice having my study buddies go with me to the library.”

All that studying paid off.

The 28-year-old single mother, together with her children Sir’Anthony, Jewelz and Santana, celebrated her bachelor’s degree in social work Saturday morning at TWU's inaugural Family Graduation Celebration. Beasley is graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average.

Beasley and about 60 fellow students who are also parents took photos with their children, who clamored as they walked the stage in the Multipurpose Classroom and Lab building with their parents while wearing their own miniature caps and gowns.

Rishun Beasley, a mother of four and former foster care child, takes a photo with her children Sir'Anthony, left,  Jewelz and Santana to celebrate her graduation with a 4.0 GPA on Saturday at Texas Woman's University. TWU had an event to celebrate graduating student parents. Beasley also has a 1-year-old child, Zane.DRC
Rishun Beasley, a mother of four and former foster care child, takes a photo with her children Sir'Anthony, left, Jewelz and Santana to celebrate her graduation with a 4.0 GPA on Saturday at Texas Woman's University. TWU had an event to celebrate graduating student parents. Beasley also has a 1-year-old child, Zane.
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Abigail Tilton, a professor in TWU’s social work program, shared with the crowd her own story of being a single, struggling mom in 2006 who returned to school at the University of North Texas for her Ph.D.

“Although intellectually I knew that this was a good decision that would ultimately benefit my family, I have to admit that my feeling was one of guilt,” Tilton said. “I felt selfish.”

She had just gotten out of a 14-year relationship when she began her studies. Tilton, together with her children, then ages 2 and 4, moved out of a comfortable home and into a shoddy rental property.

“Our lives changed dramatically. I had no more time to chaperone field trips, and schoolwork became my focus. I was convinced that my children would be in a lifetime of therapy because of my inability to make them cupcakes,” Tilton said. “Guilt was my burden.”

But Tilton said her children tell her they don’t remember things like she does.

The small rental house was just the place with a big tree in the front yard they got to climb, and a toolshed in the backyard made for a great clubhouse.

“They helped me move from a deficit perspective of this journey and struggle into strength perspective," she said. "And so I know what I’ve given to my children today: discipline, grit and resilience.”

Amy O’Keefe, the executive director of the Campus Alliance for Resource Education (CARE) at TWU, collaborated with the Student Union to create a celebration of those students who made it through classes with those same ideals.

O’Keefe said these nontraditional students comprise a considerable portion of TWU’s student demographic. At TWU, the average student’s age is 29, she added.

“It takes a load of hard work to get a degree. You know what else takes hard work? Raising kids,” O’Keefe said. “That’s why we call them Pioneer superheroes.”

She first met Beasley four years ago when they went to the Education Reach for Texans Convening, an annual conference held in Dallas that helps plug former foster care children into educational resources.

When she first learned about Beasley’s work and the several obstacles she’s overcome as a former foster care child, O’Keefe saw a grand opportunity for her to succeed at TWU.

After completing some community college work, Beasley earned a scholarship from the Terry Foundation, a Houston-based organization founded to provide scholarships to outstanding Texas high school graduates.

“I saw her dreams and potential, having gone through all that she has,” O’Keefe said. “Her effort as a student has been extraordinary, and I think it’s important for institutions like ours to recognize that.”

What’s next for Beasley? She plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington in the fall for her master’s degree in social work. She eventually wants to start a nonprofit benefiting children in foster care.

Her message to women in situations similar to hers is a simple one.

“I want all the women out there to never give up and stay strong, and realize that this is possible,” Beasley said. “This experience has been so rewarding.”

MATT PAYNE can be reached at 940-566-6845.

Featured image: Texas Woman's University recognized graduating student parents Saturday, April 29, 2017, at Multipurpose Classroom and Lab building in Denton, Texas. 
Tomas Gonzalez/DRC