(JACKSON, Miss.) — Commencement is seemingly considered a special moment in a student’s academic journey. A vertex of achievement, so to speak.
For Pamela Flowers-Magee and Jo’Vonda Flowers, the day was even more noteworthy.
On May 7, 2021, the mother-daughter duo graduated together.
“We joked about us finishing at the same time, and it just so happened to work out that way. It was fate,” said mom, Flowers-Magee, who earned a doctorate in educational leadership.
“I was elated,” added Jo’Vonda, who attained a master’s degree in early childhood education through JSU’s online program.
Flowers-Magee works as an administrative assistant in the university’s Department of Counseling Rehabilitation and Psychometric Services. She is also an adjunct who teaches an undergraduate course in human growth and development.
“I decided to take advantage of the free courses,” said Flowers-Magee, referring to the incentive JSU gives employees. Faculty and staff members can take up to six credit hours free of charge.
The married mother of three holds a bachelor’s in business administration from Belhaven University. She then received a master’s in early childhood education from Jackson State in 2015.
However, Flowers-Magee recalled that her department chair pushed her to attain a doctoral degree the following fall.
“And, of course, I decided to take her up on it,” she said.
Jo’Vonda attended JSU as an undergraduate student in 2013. Choosing the HBCU appeared to be a no-brainer since her mother was a staff member. Plus, her grandfather, James “Toe” Hartfield, was previously a kicking coach for JSU’s football team.
“I love Jackson State. When I first came I was pretty nervous. I didn’t expect it to feel like home, but it did. My whole life has kind of been based around Jackson State,” she said.
Jo’Vonda completed a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation in 2017.
She subsequently returned to JSU to pursue her master’s. Due to Flowers-Magee’s lengthy dissertation process, the two ended up on a trek to finish together.
“I came to see her every day,” said Jo’Vonda of her mother, then laughed. “I know sometimes she got tired of seeing me, but I would come to her department just to visit her. We would have lunch together. If I ever felt like I didn’t have anybody, I knew that I had her.”
They both took turns supporting each other when work-school-life balance became too much.
“I would tell her just to breathe,” said Jo’Vonda, who has a 2-year-old son named Bryce.
“We would tell each other to be patient. It’s going to come. It took us believing in each other to get this far.”
Flowers-Magee said she would remind her daughter that “God got you, too. Make mama proud, and be the best for you and Bryce.”
The ladies plan to open a daycare together eventually. Flowers-Magee originated the concept, Jo’Vonda explained, and she wanted to be a part of it.
“She put the idea in my head, and I love working with kids,” she said.
Jo’Vonda is even contemplating the possibility of her son, who Flowers-Magee fondly refers to as her “pooh,” attending the daycare.
“He’ll be there, too. If he’s not too old by that time,” she added.
Although they relied on each other for encouragement, Flowers-Magee expressed gratitude for JSU faculty and staff who also helped her on the journey.
“I knew a lot of them from working with them, but I got to know them on a different level as professors. The guidance that they gave me, especially my dissertation chair, Dr. Lou Sanders. She was so encouraging,” Flowers-Magee acknowledged.
“She was tough at times, but it was tough love. Her mentoring made sure that I had the best product when I finished and something I could be proud of.”
One of the more difficult challenges for Jo’Vonda, during her matriculation, was losing her 27-year-old cousin unexpectedly.
“It was pretty rough because I just had my son. It took a toll on me. It hurt me badly,” she lamented. Still, she was able to maintain her grades due to being in the JSU Online program.
“If I were taking in-person classes, I probably wouldn’t have made it. Online was much better for me. I was able to work and grieve in peace,” she explained.
Even so, the women pushed forward enduring through a national pandemic, the city’s water crisis, taking turns watching Bryce, working, homework, and writing a dissertation all to walk the commencement stage on May 7.
“Oh, what a journey for the both of us, but God saw us through it. We can both reflect and remember that we were challenged, embraced and pushed,” Flowers-Magee said. “Our support team is ‘thee’ best.”
Giving thanks to God for being faithful and merciful, she further added that she and her daughter exceeded their own expectations.
“Jo’Vonda felt she was done when she received her undergraduate degree, and I thought I was done when I received my master’s degree,” she said. “Being able to graduate the same day with Jo’Vonda sitting several rows directly behind me was ‘thee’ most amazing feeling.”