Dad, son continue education and graduate together; mom year behind
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On Aug. 7, David "Scott" White, 49, and his son, Benjamin, 24, graduated from Duquesne University's School of Leadership and Professional Advancement.
Karen White, the mother of Benjamin and wife of Scott, is on track to graduate from the same program next year.
This North Huntingdon father and son marching together in their graduation ceremony is a story of hard work, motivation and family achievement. But it's also a story of how one family has responded to the increasingly tough job market and hard economic times.
Scott, who works for Joy Mining Machinery, said the idea to return and finish work on his bachelor's degree came to him when the company he was working for before Joy was bought by another.
"They were reorganizing, there were a lot of people let go," he said. "It shook me up."
Although he and his wife had attended college in their home state of Ohio, neither had completed work for their degrees.
"It was something left unfinished, so it was very much a personal goal to finish," he said, adding, "I realized that it would have offered a bit of comfort during that reorganization if I'd had a college degree to count on."
Because his job involves frequent travel, internationally and within the U.S., Mr. White said he looked for a flexible leadership program that offered online and classroom-based courses.
He selected Duquesne's SLPA program, which his older son, Benjamin, also decided to attend.
Benjamin joined the Air Force in August 2005, working in intelligence, and earned an associate degree through Community College of the Air Force, part of Air University, in December 2008.
He said the experience made him want to keep going.
"I got that pat on the shoulder, that piece of paper," he said. "Then dad said he was going to start at Duquesne. And we're a pretty competitive family."
Scott and Karen began taking courses at Duquesne in the winter of 2006-07; Benjamin started courses there in the spring of 2009, a few months before his discharge from the Air Force in August 2009.
From then on, Benjamin said, it was a race to the finish.
He entered the program with several credits from his earlier associate degree. But when his adviser told him it would still take him years to complete his bachelor's, he politely disagreed.
"When you decide to do something, you don't mess around," he said.
He was able to transfer several credits, but he also took the maximum allowable courses at Duquesne -- as well as taking an additional course through the Community College of Allegheny County.
"I took 57 credits in one year," he said, adding that he also maintained a high grade point average throughout, qualifying upon his graduation for Alpha Sigma Lambda, the honor society for those in continuing education.
Scott, meanwhile, was traveling the world with "20 tons of books" in his suitcase.
"I've written papers in Poland, France, Switzerland," he added.
Both said the life experience they brought to their education was a great help. For Scott, returning to college after so many years was "an intimidating experience."
"But I found my job and life experience helped me to manage my time more efficiently and gave me much broader perspectives on what we were being taught about leadership," he said.
Benjamin concedes that before he spent time in the military, he wasn't ready for college. That soon changed.
"I could see the difference when I returned home for a visit," he said. "My level of maturity had gone way up. My friends were still centered on their social lives, while I was more worried about real-world issues."
Even though his two other siblings serve in the military far away, they were able to see their father and brother graduate online via a live feed of the ceremony.
Monica White, 25, is in Iraq serving the Pennsylvania Air National Guard as an air traffic controller. Michael White, 21, is in Air Force Intelligence in South Dakota.
Now that he's graduated, Scott is studying to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test and considering pursuing a master's degree in business administration.
Benjamin is staying with his parents while he looks for a job, and he says that he's grateful to be back with his family for a while after being away so long in the military.
"You learn how to cope, missing holidays, not seeing your family," he said. "But this last year, being with my parents, graduating with my dad -- you don't get that stuff back."
Scott agreed that receiving his degree with his son was "a pretty big moment," and that he only has one regret.
"We're a highly motivated family, but I just couldn't see changing my name, simply so I'd get to get my degree before my son," he said.
For more information on Duquesne University's School of Leadership and Professional Advancement, go to www.duq.edu/leadership/.
First Published August 19, 2010 12:00 am