By David Miller
University of Alabama Strategic Communications
Lisa and Russell Hewitt could feel other students staring at them as they sat in class.
“People were looking at us like, ‘does that guy have his mom with him?’” Lisa said.
Yes, he sure did.
The puzzled looks and whispers were understandable; Lisa hadn’t been there all semester, and it’s rare to see someone’s mom or dad show up to class. But Lisa was there for the same reason as the other students: to complete a four-hour case study for their strategic management course.
Lisa had been working toward her business administration degree through UA’s distance education program, Bama by Distance. She’d driven to Tuscaloosa from their native Cumming to complete the case study.
It wouldn’t be the last time she and Russell would share a class – and a stage – together.
On May 4, both Lisa and Russell received their undergraduate business degrees from Alabama. Russell took the traditional four-year route immediately after high school. Lisa began courses in 2017 after leaving college to start her working career in 1987.
And though their degree plans and paths were different, Lisa’s determination to take classes year-round – including winter – provided the sweetest pre-Mother’s Day gift she could have ever received: graduating with her son.
“It was coincidental – her credits just lined up with how I would finish,” Russell said. “She’s asked me several times, ‘are you sure it’s OK that I walk with you?’ But of course, it’s fun to graduate together.”
Lisa was both nervous and excited that day. She reminisced about dropping Russell off at campus back in 2015, and cheering for him during soccer matches and robotics competitions in high school. She envisioned sitting in the stands at Coleman Coliseum, like the rest of the parents during commencement, and belting out a prideful cheer when Russell’s name was announced.
But Lisa was in line, immediately in front of Russell, and would receive her diploma first. She wasn’t sure if the “mom” celebration would be appropriate.
“I always pictured in my head how it would go,” Lisa said. “So when someone came up to us and said, ‘you can stop and give him a hug,’ I thought, ‘great!’”
Just before the steps to exit the commencement stage, Lisa clutched Russell in her arms for several seconds before returning to their seats together. Their emotions were aplenty: Lisa, graduating summa cum laude at 52, proved to herself that she still has the ability to learn, and at a high level; Russell overcame losing his scholarship after switching his major from computer science to management information systems, ultimately deciding the job placement and strength of the program were worth the costs.
“It was a tough time, but here we are at the end, and completing it with my mom made it that much more worth it,” Russell said.
Russell will soon begin his second summer internship with Fiserv, a tech solutions company, where he’ll perform solutions architecture. Lisa is currently looking for her first job as a college graduate and will begin reconnecting with her previous corporate contacts. She hopes to return to business analysis, a role she held previously with Cingular Wireless before leaving in 2005 to spend more time with her children.
“Trying to get back into corporate America is tough enough, so having my degree, along with the experience, gives me a better opportunity,” Lisa said.