After four years of exams, papers and presentations, Lori Ann McDonald of Seymour graduated from college.
But the 50-year-old chose not to participate in her own commencement ceremony Saturday because she had somewhere more important to be.
At the same time she was scheduled to receive a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, McDonald sat in the audience at Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium in Bloomington and watched her son, Jason Mc-Donald, also of Seymour, receive his bachelor’s degree.
“Whenever they were coming in with the processional and all that, I cried a lot. I was so proud,” Lori McDonald said. “Even though I kind of missed not being able to graduate with my class, I knew I was with them in spirit, and there’s nowhere else I would have rather been than seeing him graduate.”
Lori McDonald made the decision to go back to college at the same time her son started college at IU in the fall of 2011.
“That was a transitional period for me,” she said.
At that point, she had spent six years working as an instructional assistant for special needs students at Seymour Middle School, a job she said she loved. Before that, she was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.
But seeing her son start college made her realize she was getting older and didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.
“Right out of high school, I went to Vincennes University and got an associate degree in marketing,” she said. “But I decided I’d like to get my bachelor’s by the time I was 50. I thought it was now or never.”
The family moved to Seymour from Linton in 1992, the year before her son was born, when Lori McDonald’s husband, Kevin McDonald, took a job with Valeo, where he still works.
Jason McDonald said he was surprised by his mother’s decision to go back to college, and he wanted to support and encourage her.
“I was happy that she was going back for further education,” he said. “I know she enjoyed her job and her time working at the school, but this opportunity would allow her to do more, whatever she wanted to do.”
With her son, her daughter, Kaylee, who was still in high school at the time, and her husband all backing her, Lori McDonald started back to college at IUPUC, taking just a couple of classes per semester that first year.
“I wanted to see if I could transition back into writing papers and doing homework,” she said.
What she found was she could, thanks to her family — who helped by taking on more responsibilities at home so she could study and attend class — her professors and her classmates.
“After that first year, I thought I could do more. So for the following three years, I’ve taken full course loads,” she said. “Full time just going to school. That’s what I’ve done for the last four years.”
She said she chose IUPUC for several reasons.
“IUPUC was within commuting distance, and I could earn an IU degree on a small campus,” she said.
She was even able to take a few of her classes at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour.
“Many online classes were available, which was helpful, and the professors were great and took time to make sure students understood the concepts and made themselves available outside of class to answer questions,” she said.
She said two instructors, Ryan Neville-Shepard and Anna Carmon, were instrumental in her academic success.
“I would not be where I am today without their help and guidance,” she said.
She studied communications because the field was so broad, McDonald said, and a degree would allow her to pursue jobs in sales, advertising, public relations or journalism. At IUPUC, she served as secretary for the English Club and was a member of the Communications Club.
Attending college at the same time as her son was interesting, she said, and it brought them closer together.
“I think we bonded over it because we could commiserate over our lengthy research papers and long hours of studying,” she said. “We would often talk about what projects we were working on.”
Jason McDonald was able to give his mom advice when it came to taking finite mathematics.
“He took finite before I did, so he warned me it would not be easy,” she said.
When the mother and son started their college journeys, they didn’t know one would have to miss graduation to see the other one graduate.
“From the very beginning, we didn’t know it was going to line up like that, that she would be graduating at the same time as me,” Jason McDonald said.
When they found out, he was disappointed he wouldn’t get to see his mom accept her degree in cap and gown.
“I knew that she said she had already been through her undergraduate graduation ceremony at Vincennes and she would rather be at mine, but I still felt it was too bad that she couldn’t go and see her friends and associate with classmates she’s worked with over the past four years,” Jason McDonald said.
But for her, seeing her son receive his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications was a moment she wouldn’t have given up for anything, Lori McDonald said.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “To see how much he’s accomplished and how much he’s grown as a person and to see how he’s grown spiritually over the past four years has been a blessing.”
Jason McDonald said he was pretty glad she could be there, too.
Right now, he is serving as a substitute teacher for Seymour Community Schools and is looking for television news jobs in the Midwest.
After the graduation ceremony in Bloomington, the McDonalds celebrated with their family at Fazoli’s. They are planning an official graduation party in June for both of them.
Lori McDonald said if people take anything away from her story, it’s that it’s never too late to accomplish your goals.
“Even if it takes a little longer, and at a slower pace, you can make it happen,” she said. “Go for your dreams. As a nontraditional student, I have learned that you can teach an old dog new tricks.”