NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU) - A mother and daughter will share an important milestone when they both receive their master’s degrees from Northwestern State University during Fall Commencement Friday, Dec. 15.
Jessica McKee of Leesville will receive Master of Art in Art from the Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts and her mother Chelon Johnson of Anacoco will receive a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development.
Throughout their journey, each played a meaningful role in encouraging the other.
McKee graduated from the Louisiana Scholars’ College in 2015 with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Communication and began graduate school the following fall.
“My parents always wanted me to go to college, and pushed me throughout school to do my best,” McKee said. “They wanted me to be able to support myself, no matter where life took me.”
McKee originally planned to pursue a degree in radiology, but her mother, recognizing her aptitude for drawing and making art, encouraged her to pursue that as a degree path.
“My parents were my support and strength during college, always available to offer critiques, help me get art supplies, and usually were my first buyers for anything that I created," she said. "Indeed, they were the first purchasers of one of my pieces from my graduate exhibition, and are always interested in what project I am working on next. They helped me get through the writing of my undergraduate thesis, and were there for the art exhibition that supported it."
When she had the opportunity to get her graduate degree, her parents and her husband James encouraged her.
Johnson went back to school to earn her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and certification in library science where McKee was working as a graduate assistant.
“Mom and I spent many, many hours working on our theses together, talking about research subjects and working on proofreading and formatting," McKee said. "Her project involved flexible seating in her elementary classroom, and we worked on her room together every summer and many other hours, as long as I have memory. It was wonderful, to be able to help her research and experiment to help her students succeed.”
When the two realized that we would be graduating one semester apart, Johnson slowed her pace so they could graduate at the same ceremony.
“The week before Thanksgiving, we finished my graduate show together, my husband making frames for my show, mom, dad, and myself sanding, painting, and putting glass and art in the frames, as well as helping me to cater the reception that followed," she said. "I truly would not have been able to finish as well as I did without their help."
Johnson began classes at NSU after high school in 1987 but left before she completed her degree. She worked for several years as a paraprofessional in the Vernon Parish School system and began looking at getting her teaching certificate in 2004, when her daughter was in fifth grade. Johnson’s husband worked overseas at the time, so she worked full-time, cared for her daughter and began working towards her bachelor’s degree, earning a degree in general studies in 2009. She then earned teacher certification from Louisiana College and had begun the master’s program in 2010 when the family adopted an infant son.
Johnson balanced graduate classes with teaching third grade at West Leesville Elementary and caring for her small son. By taking one or two classes at a time, she earned library certification and continued towards her graduate degree.
“Some of the things that have kept me focused and in pursuit of my goal of earning a master’s degree are my faith in God, my family and the desire to make a difference in the lives of the children I teach and come into contact with daily,” Johnson said.
McKee said her mother is her inspiration.
“I look at her determination to go back to college, while still giving all she had to her work and to me," McKee said. "When my little brother was added to the mix, she was all there, still determined and a source of strength to all of us. You can ask any of her current or former students, and they will all say they love Mrs. J, that she was there, working for them and helping them be the very best that they can be. She gives all of herself to whatever she does, be it teaching her students at school, working with toddlers at in our church, or mothering myself and Jase. If I could be half the woman she is, I would be doing very well. I am so very, very proud of her, and truly am humbled and honored to be able to graduate with her at last.”
Up next, McKee plans to pursue a career in graphic design and expand her photography and illustration business while Johnson will continue to help children and helping new teachers.
“As an educator with 25+ years of experience, I understand the pressure of today's classroom and the high demands of meeting all the ever changing requirements of the profession," Johnson said. "Somehow through all of the requirements and demands, I hope to help teachers remember why they chose to become a teacher. For now, I will return to my classroom and do what I love: teach my students.”
Northwestern State will hold its Fall Commencement exercises Friday, Dec. 15 in Prather Coliseum. At 10 a.m., graduates from the Gallaspy Family College of Education and Human Development, the Louisiana Scholars’ College and the College of Arts and Sciences except for those in general studies will receive diplomas. At 3 p.m., graduates in general studies along with graduates from the College of Nursing and School of Allied Health and the College of Business and Technology will be recognized.