75-year-old grandmother and her granddaughter graduate college together

Author: Caitlin O'Kane, CBS News
Pat and Melody started school together and graduated side by side. (Photo courtesy of Pat Ormond via CBS News)

Many graduation ceremonies look different in the time of COVID-19. But for Melody Ormond, it looked different because of the classmate who graduated alongside her: Her grandmother, 75-year-old Pat Ormond.

They both went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga — and graduated together.

Pat told CBS News she had gone to college before, but only had a few credits under her belt. In 2017 she found herself retired and admittedly bored. That’s when Melody suggested she enroll in school.

“She’s always loved learning. I just thought, come to college with me!” Melody told CBS News. The now-22-year-old was transferring to the University of Tennessee as a sophomore and since Pat had some credits, too, they would be entering at the same level.

“I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll graduate at the same time, that’s perfect,'” Melody said. It took a bit more convincing to get Pat on board.

“Part of how I convinced her was I told her that as the matriarch, she had the responsibility to stay inspiring to us, to all us other women in the family,” the granddaughter said.

After Pat realized it was affordable, she decided to enroll. She always had an interest in archeology, so she chose to be an anthropology major.

Melody was a psychology major, so the two didn’t run into each other much on campus. Pat, however, made friends of her own – both young and old.

“Anywhere from the freshmen coming right out of high school and asking me, ‘Why are you going to school?’ to the older students that were auditing,” she said. “Of course, I tried to emphasize to them, ‘You have a chance to get an education right now.'”

Pat said as an anthropology major, she went on many field trips, during which her fellow students would help her get around.

Melody said she talked about her grandmother on campus every chance she got. “I always knew that I would go to college, always hoped I’d graduate. But I never expected Nana to be there with me,” she said.

Of course, many of the students were interested in Pat’s educational journey. They would ask me, ‘Well, do you think my mother could go back to college?’ I’d say, ‘Well, you know, if she can afford it, there’s no reason for her not to.'”

The grandmother said there were several older people on campus. That’s because for students 65 and older, the University of Tennessee only charges $70 a semester. For Pat, who said she always focused on putting her kids and grandkids first, that was a game-changer.

After working hard for more than three years, Pat and Melody graduated. The school held a socially-distanced graduation ceremony outside last month, and guests were not allowed in person. Fortunately for Pat and Melody, they each had a family member there to celebrate – each other.

In graduation and in life, the grandmother and granddaughter are side-by-side. Pat said she couldn’t have done it without Melody. “She gave me the push when I needed it,” she said.

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