BRANDON — When Tiffany Thurman prepared to further her education, she considered as well the situation of her mother, Beverly Stewart Lee, who never found the time — or the means — to earn a college degree herself.
“My senior year of high school I asked my mom, ‘If you had the chance to go back to school, would you?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but I don’t have the money.’ I said, ‘Great, I got you financial aid, I already signed you up for HCC, and you start Aug. 22,” Thurman said.
Days before mother and daughter were set to file into the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall on May 2, for Hillsborough Community College’s 2014 commencement exercises, Lee recounted her reaction to receiving her second shot at a college education.
“I am so honored, and I am very appreciative,” Lee, 59, said. “I’m out of words, that she would not only successfully pursue her own education but also help me get mine.”
“It is amazing,” added Thurman, 21, about her mother’s decision to rise to the challenge of a college education. “It shows that you’re never too old to go to college. That you can do anything, as long as you have that determination and willingness to move forward.”
Lee said she first enrolled as a freshman at the University of South Florida in 1973, with plans to major in business and accounting, but that’s as far as it went.
“Through the years I took a class here and there, but I never finished,” she added. “When I had my kids I never went back.”
Now, with an associate degree in the liberal arts, Lee said she plans to study business, pharmaceutical studies “or something else in the medical field” at USF. Her daughter said she plans to study sports medicine and physical therapy, also at USF.
Lee acknowledged that Ira Bell Floyd, her “mentor from childhood up,” would be proud of Lee’s college graduation. Floyd died in 2013 at the age of 95. Lee noted, too, the example set by her mother, Carole Lafayette Stewart, who died in 2011 at the age of 80. Lee said her mother earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, from Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M University, respectively.
It’s the kind of example Lee said she received as well from her attentive, determined and capable daughter — that having a college degree is not a question to consider but rather a goal to achieve.
As for Thurman, a member of the Collegiate 100 club at HCC’s Brandon campus, she said she never thought twice about earning her first degree from HCC, a decision she made after transferring to the community college from Florida State University.
“Coming back here from Tallahassee I learned so much more than I did at the university,” she said. “I really just got lost there. I don’t feel like you have a support system at the university like you do at HCC, with people breathing down your neck when you’re going the wrong way.”
Through Collegiate 100, Thurman added, she had the opportunity to lead and to mentor — as well as volunteer — with a passion. Now she is going to pursue and deepen that drive at the university, only this time with one thought that she won’t soon shake.
“I’m going to miss HCC a lot,” said Thurman.