Although born more than 40 years apart, Theresa Lyles and her granddaughter Zuri Lyles were part of the same graduating class at Tennessee State University. Theresa, 68, and Zuri, 22, walked across the stage to accept their degrees when TSU held its spring undergraduate commencement in the Howard C. Gentry Complex on May 5. Theresa’s degree is in sociology, while Zuri received a bachelor’s degree in health information management and a minor in business. “I never contemplated this,” Theresa said when asked about her and her granddaughter graduating at the same time.
“Who knew that when I started back then that I would be graduating at the same time as she did. Nobody but God.” Theresa, a grandmother of 15, started at TSU in 1967 but dropped out in 1970 to raise her family.
A little over a year ago, she came back to school without knowing she earned enough credits back then to put her close to graduating until her academic advisers told her. But a few months into her schooling, alongside Zuri, t-ragedy hit the family. Theresa lost her middle daughter, Zuri’s mother, on January 6.
“That hit us so hard that I almost dropped out because I was struggling and my grandmother went through a dep-ression,” said Zuri. “But we kept encouraging each other. Through it all, we started working harder and did everything we needed to get the job done.”
Zuri, who has a job offer with St. Thomas General as an information systems analyst, said she plans to attend graduate school and get a degree in physical therapy. For now, Theresa will continue to help with raising her grandchildren, but she is glad to finally get her degree.
“I always wanted to come back, but just never had the chance to do it,” she said. “I am glad I did, and it’s even better than I am doing it with my granddaughter. We encouraged each other. It was tough, but we had to tunnel through.”
Said Zuri: “It feels amazing and life-changing for both of us” to be graduating at the same time.
This may just be the first time in TSU’s more than 100-year history that a grandmother and a granddaughter will be graduating at the same time.
Zuri is graduating with honors. Her ultimate goal is to start her own business.