3 Generations + 1 University = an RU Legacy

Christina Meadows and her mother

Christina Meadows with her mother and fellow RU alumna, Teresa Meadows '90,  after Christina's 2011 spring commencement ceremony.

Family and college ties sometimes intertwine through the years, as Radford University 2011 alumna Christina Meadows is proud to tell.

Christina is her family’s third generation of Radford alumni, joining the legacy started by her late grandmother Martha Graham '56, uncle Thomas Graham '88, mother Teresa Meadows '90, and aunts Cathy Gillen ’95 and Robin Graham '02.

“They never pushed it, but they always joked about it,” she said. “I always said, ‘I’m not going to Radford because everyone in my family went to Radford—I’m determined to not go there.’”

However, a visit to campus with her Aunt Cathy in 2007, when Christina was a high school senior, soon had her singing a different tune.

“She showed me around, and after seeing the campus I just fell in love,” Christina said. “The search was over. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else. I felt right at home.”

She made herself so much at home, she completed her undergraduate work at RU, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary middle school education and teaching license in spring 2011.

Christina recalled how rewarding it was to have her Aunt Cathy by her side on that first visit. “We went to where the Bonnie is and the roadway that’s blocked off. She said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that used to be a road you could drive straight through!’ The Bonnie wasn’t here when she was here, so she was definitely blown away by everything that has changed.”

Gillen, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in speech communication, said when it was her time to choose a college nearly 20 years ago, she turned to her family for advice. It was hearing stories from her brother and sister about their personal connections with their professors that made RU her top choice.

Martha Graham holding granddaughter.

Martha Graham ’56 holds granddaughter, Christina, at daughter Teresa's graduation from Radford University in 1990. Christina would go on to become the third generation of her family to attend RU. 

“They described being more than just a number in the classroom. Good or bad, your professor was familiar with your work,” Gillen said. “This personal recommendation from two graduates was very convincing. My mother was also very proud of her time at Radford, since she was one of the first in her family to attend college.”

As a former RU Student Ambassador and recruiting caller, Gillen believes close bonds between students and professors have always been a factor drawing students to Radford year after year.

“In addition to the campus being beautiful, it's very easy for prospective students to imagine fitting in and quickly becoming part of the RU community,” she said. “College can be a hard transition for some, and I think Radford's architecture lends itself to being very comforting and welcoming.” 

Proud to see another Radford grad in the family, Gillen said she is thrilled to know she helped Christina see some of the university’s possibilities.

“I loved that I was able to influence her, but I aimed just to show her all the options at Radford,” Gillen said. “I love that Christina chose to continue the legacy for her own reasons, and I'm proud that Radford's innovative programs continue to woo future graduates—like my niece!”

Gillen’s sister Teresa Meadows, Christina’s mother, remembers very well the three-day tour of Virginia colleges that Christina made with her Aunt Cathy. Radford was the final stop on her daughter’s itinerary.

“She called me and said, ‘Mom, I definitely know where I'm going to college!" Meadows said. “I was afraid to ask, but I did, and she replied, ‘Radford!’ It was the last campus she visited, and she absolutely fell in love with it.”

Meadows said she never pushed her daughter toward RU but admits Christina’s decision brought a smile to her face. “She said she couldn't imagine going to any of the other universities,” Meadows said. “I was pleased, and my mom was too.”

Meadows, who now lives in South Carolina, took a less conventional path to RU. She enlisted in the U.S. Army during her senior year of high school in February 1982. After four years of active duty, she attended New River Community College before enrolling at Radford, where she earned a Bacheor of Science degree in mathematics education with a teaching license in mathematics and chemistry. While she was at Radford, she also got married and started a family.

“I was just a baby when she graduated,” Christina said. “She was pregnant with me while here” in fall 1988.

Working toward a college degree with her first child on the way was quite a challenge, Meadows admitted. “I commuted from Hillsville, Virginia, my hometown,” she said. “I took my last exam on Dec. 15, 1988—30 days before Christina was born!”

Meadows took a semester off to spend time with her newborn baby, returning to RU in fall 1989. Meanwhile, she had moved to Beckley, W.Va., adding an hour each way to her daily commute.

“My schedule in the spring of 1990 was to get up at 5 a.m., drive Christina to my mother-in-law's—which was another 30 minutes out of the way—drop her off and continue to my 8 a.m. class at Radford on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings,” she said. “Then I’d continue to Pearisburg, where I was student teaching, and on Thursday I had a night class.” 

“It wasn't easy,” she said. “Had I not pushed through all the challenges the Army taught me, I may not have stuck with it.” She had another motivation too: “My mom made me promise her that I would get my college degree,” she said.

Meadows served in the U.S. Army Reserve and later returned to active duty. “The veterans program at Radford was always helpful in working with me to complete necessary paperwork,” she said.

“I always felt that Radford cared about me,” she said, “and it was a plus that my mom had graduated from Radford. She only had fond memories of Radford.”

Meadows and Christina both speak with pride about family matriarch Martha Graham, who died in 2010. A graduate of Radford College before it became coeducational, she was a teaching role model for both daughter and granddaughter.

“She was the first to attend college in her family,” Meadows said of her mother, a farmer’s daughter. “Her oldest sister sent her $10 occasionally, but Mom worked in the school cafeteria on work study. She majored in home economics and taught school for more than 36 years.”

Nearly 60 years after Graham studied and worked on campus, Radford still holds a special place in the hearts of her children and granddaughter Christina, who views her grandmother’s accomplishments as pioneering. “I always thought it was so cool that my grandmother went here—along with my mom, aunt and uncle—and I really love that she was here while it was still an all-girls school.”

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a little kid,” Christina said. “When you tell people you want to be a teacher, so many look at it like, ‘Why do you want to put yourself in that position?’ I take a lot of pride in it, knowing that I’m continuing a family legacy.”

And what of the future? Will there be a fourth generation of the family at Radford? Nothing is out of the question, Christina said.

“It would be so cool,” she said. “It would just be awesome if I ever have kids who come here too.”

Nov 24, 2011
Keith Hagarty