A Mother’s Day to Remember
Mother and son share the achievement of being college graduates
By Max Esterhuizen, M.S. ’15
Trish and Noah Austin spent an atypical Mother’s Day together on Radford University’s campus.
In addition to celebrating their mother-son bond, they were also celebrating as recent Highlander graduates. The duo graduated the day before as part of the University’s 2019 Spring Commencement.
“It was surreal,” Trish Austin said. “It was neat that it worked out that way. I got my degree officially in December, but decided to hold off and walk so we could do it together.”
Noah Austin was on board with her decision from the beginning.
“He said, ‘Yeah! That’d be pretty awesome, Mom.’ So that’s what we decided to do,” she continued.
Now, both mother and son have a special memory to share and reflect on as Radford University alumni.
A special moment years in the making
For Trish, this Commencement ceremony was 27 years in the making. Her journey began at Virginia Western Community College in the 1980s and resumed in 2014.
“I thought, ‘I actually did it. I’m actually here,’” Trish said. “I walked across the stage and got my degree. Even though I got the diploma earlier, that’s when it sunk in. After 27 years, it was a big achievement for me. I come from Floyd County, where a lot of my family didn’t go to college. For me to get a four-year degree, it is a big accomplishment.”
Trish is never going to forget the feeling of walking across that stage. Amidst all cheering, yelling and excitement, there was only silence for Trish.
“I don’t know if it’s the feeling I had of actually walking across the stage and shaking President Hemphill’s hand, I don’t know if I tuned out everything else. My family said they yelled, but I heard crickets,” she said. “The actual ceremony made it more real to me that I graduated from college. It was good closure.”
For Noah, he had the special experience of seeing his mother walk across only a few minutes before he did so himself.
“When we sat down for the ceremony, she was three or four rows in front of me,” Noah said. “It was really cool. With Mother’s Day the next day, it worked out really well.”
It wasn’t until the bagpipes started playing that the gravity of the moment truly hit Noah — that he was graduating, and so was his mother.
“[When] lining up you don’t really feel it, it just feels like you’re talking with your friends,” Noah said. “I remember when the bagpipes started going and the faculty came in. That was when I got that excitement. It felt real when I shook Dean [Matthew J.] Smith’s hand.”
Happy Mother’s Day!
Lost in the moment on Saturday was a picture of both Trish and Noah in their caps and gowns. The next day — Mother’s Day — was a perfect time to take those pictures. That day ended as one of Noah favorite moments at Radford University.
“When we were walking around, I did feel this almost kind of sadness. I am going to miss the campus,” Noah said. “There was also a profound pride that I had gone here, and I did well. My mother went here, and she did well, too. If you mentioned it to me four years ago that I’d be graduating from a University with my mother, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
On Mother’s Day, it was just Trish, Noah and their photographer. Noah eagerly showed his mother around campus — she had only had one class on campus as she had primarily studied at the Higher Education Center in Roanoke.
“It made it a really special weekend,” Trish said.
A journey to achievement
For Trish, life put her education on hold. She got married, had children and began working. But, in 2014, she decided to resume her education at Virginia Western Community College — the same year that Noah began his higher education journey there.
Trish finished her associate degree at Virginia Western and decided to participate in the 2+2 program at Radford University.
While in the medical field now, Trish completed her criminal justice degree at Virginia Western and Radford University. “When I picked it up again in 2014, it wasn’t smart to switch careers and lose all those credits. If I get into law enforcement, that’s great. If not, I can use it in the medical field as well,” Trish said.
After transferring to Radford University, Noah graduated with a social sciences degree as part of the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences. Radford University brought out the best in Noah and in his mother. Noah said that he struggled academically in high school, but that he was able to connect with the material upon arriving on Radford’s campus.
“I found the passion for the classes I was taking,” Noah said. “I had support there, be it friends or professors. I graduated with honors.”
Taking the next step
For both Trish and Noah, Commencement was the end of a chapter, but not the end of their academic stories. In Fall 2019, Trish is starting at Radford University Carilion to earn her Master of Healthcare Administration.
“I was so used to juggling school and work that I didn’t know what to do with my free time,” Trish said. “Once you’re in that mode, you want to go for it.”
Noah is planning on attending graduate school to study German history at either the University of Tennessee or the University of Kiel in Germany.
Before that next step, both Trish and Noah reflect on their special weekend — one that saw two family members walk across the stage as they reached the next step of their lives.