Beth Biagini always imagined that she would watch her youngest daughter graduate from college. But the mother of four never dreamed that she would be wearing a cap and gown on the same day herself.
Friday, Beth and her daughter, Cally Biagini, strolled across the stage at The University of Southern Mississippi's Reed Green Coliseum to receive their diplomas during the Spring 2013 Commencement ceremony.
"I think I am definitely more excited than she is," said Beth. "When I enrolled in the Teacher Assistant Program, I realized Cally would be graduating approximately three years later. The idea of graduating with Cally has kept me on track during some very difficult times."
Beth received her undergraduate degree in elementary education, while Cally earned hers in marketing. Cally leaves an impressive mark at Southern Miss where she compiled a 3.9 grade point average and secured a spot in the student Hall of Fame.
"Graduation is already an exciting time, but getting to experience it with my mom makes it so much more special," said Cally. "When she first asked me what I thought about her possibly graduating around the same time as me, I told her that I would love nothing more than for our graduations to be on the same day, at the same time."
Beth and her husband, David Biagini, have three other children – Leona Biagini, 36, a certified emergency medical technician and emergency medical dispatcher; Kimberly Biagini, 23, an Ole Miss graduate and David Biagini, 16, an 11th-grade student at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, MS. The couple resides in Gulfport, where Beth works as a teacher's assistant in the Harrison County School System.
Before becoming a teacher's assistant in 2000 Beth spent 20 years working in the legal field as a New Jersey resident.
"I love working with children and I love my job. I knew this is what I wanted to continue doing," she said. "I began thinking about returning to school to complete my college education that I had begun many years earlier. I had put it on hold to raise my family."
Cally notes that she actually began contemplating a degree in marketing while attending Harrison Central High. One of her teachers, Southern Miss alumnae Julie Williamson, spoke highly of the University's marketing program which made Cally's decision an easy one.
"I chose to study marketing because it fully embraces the mathematic side of business while emphasizing the 'people' aspect – not just interacting with people, but also understanding them," said Cally. "I knew that understanding people would be a necessary skill in any career, and I wanted to have a background in business."
Beth's road to an undergraduate degree was made more difficult by the declining health of her mother and step-father. Somehow Beth managed to care for both of them while tending to her own family's needs, working full-time and going to school. Her mother died in January of 2012 and her step-father passed away last summer.
"I always had my books and laptop with me wherever I went," she said. "We spent a lot of time in the hospital and the last few months in hospice care. Sadly, they won't be here to celebrate in person with me. But I know they'll be with me in spirit."
Cally and Beth Biagini each accepted their diplomas as members of the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, but Cally insists there was no competition between them regarding grade point averages.
"Both of my parents have always had high expectations for me academically, which I have been very thankful for throughout college, because I learned to have those expectations for myself," she said. "But when it comes to my mom, I never really thought to compare our grades. It's funny to talk to her about those things though, because she's just like me in terms of not wanting to settle for a 'B'."
Beth Biagini offers some pointed words for potential college students who may consider themselves too old for a classroom.
"I'd say think again. You are never too old," said Beth. "And it can be very rewarding. I am so excited to have this opportunity and look forward to hopefully having my own class in August."