Graduation ceremonies mark one of life’s great milestones. For two families, Spring commencement ceremonies on the Troy and Phenix City campuses proved particularly special as multiple family members received degrees.
The Paris Family
At one point in his life, a college degree was the farthest thing from Howard Paris’ mind.
On June 14, however, Paris shared the Columbus Civic Center stage with his wife and two of their four children as they received Troy University degrees.
The four family members joined 254 other graduates as the University’s Phenix City Campus conducted Spring commencement ceremonies. Alabama Sen. Ted Little addressed the graduates.
Paris graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, while his wife Sherby earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. His son Eldrick, who works in TROY’s Phenix City Campus bookstore, and daughter Sherieka, an employee in the campus’ records office, both received master’s degrees in business administration.
“There was a time in my life when I didn’t have hope or a future,” Paris said. “Now all of that has changed.”
Paris once thought of himself as a liability to his family and even considered walking away for their benefit. Paris battled drug addiction, had been incarcerated numerous times and even was homeless, living out of the family car with his wife and four children.
His plan before leaving his family was to plant them in a local church to ensure a supportive environment. However, instead of leaving, the church family had a life-changing impact on his life.
“The lifestyle we lead today is just totally different from what it was then,” Paris said. “My family and I put God first in everything we do.”
Paris has been a member of the maintenance staff at Chattahoochee Valley Community College for the past eight years, having first been hired by Dr. Richard Federinko, who now serves as senior vice chancellor for student affairs and administration at TROY.
Paris went on to earn an associate’s degree from Chattahoochee Valley before enrolling at TROY’s Phenix City Campus. Never dreaming he would graduate with honors, Paris admits that his first goal was just to pass his classes. And now, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, enrolling in TROY in the fall.
“The reality of it all really hasn’t set in just yet,” Paris said. “I’m very excited. I’m a proud husband and a proud parent, and I’m proud of myself and what I have been able to accomplish. There was a time when I never would have dreamed of having a college degree. I just don’t know how to put into words how much this really means to my family and me.”
The Skelton Family
May 9 marked the beginning for some 500 graduates participating in commencement exercises on the Troy Campus, but for one Prattville family, it also marked an end.
Siblings Ben, Karen and Sara Skelton all walked the commencement stage in Sartain Hall on that steamy May morning. While college chums heading in different directions isn’t uncommon, it is for this trio. They have been together since kindergarten.
“It’s exciting that we’re graduating, but it’s also kind of scary because we’ve been together for 22 years. I’m not going to be there for my sisters if their car breaks down or if they have any problems,” 23-year old Ben said.
At TROY, Ben has been the “active” one – majoring in sports and fitness management, being involved in several different campus organizations and being a “founding father” for the University’s chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Last year, he was elected homecoming king.
“It’s been the best four years of my life,” he said. Ben will stay at TROY to earn a master’s degree while Sara and Karen head to Birmingham to start jobs.
“I’ll be sad, but it’s good, too,” said Karen, a political science grad. “It’s good to have your big brother around, but now that we’re older it’s good to be independent.”
With a chuckle, she adds: “It’ll be weird because we’ve never been away from him. It’s time to grow up.”
Karen admits Sara and she balanced work, school and “the college experience” during their time at TROY.
“I would tell everybody to come here – there’s just such a great atmosphere and you get to know everybody really well. It’s a fun place to go to school,” she said.
Sara said she is glad that all three attended TROY together.
“College can be scary anyway, but having a brother and sister with you, it’s much easier – and it was easier on our parents, too,” Sara said.
While the end result turned out great for all three, Sara admits that she wasn’t always sure she wanted to spend her college years with her siblings.
“At first, I was kind of mad because this was my chance to be an individual, but we’ve grown much closer,” Sara said. “TROY was the perfect college experience – It’s really my second home and I’m going to miss it.”