Generations in the making
Mother, daughter push through challenges to graduate together
December 17, 2016
Most graduates would
say earning a bachelor’s degree takes years of determination. The obstacles,
including challenging classes, late nights and self-doubt, are many.
Christine Brown and
Shelena Brown faced even more potential roadblocks. They both had full-time
jobs and family responsibilities, and they had returned to school as adults,
taking classes online from their homes in Merrillan and Black River Falls,
Also, as Native
Americans from the Ho-Chunk Nation, pursuing higher education — especially as women
— wasn’t part of their family history. They were first-generation college
Along with their all-out
desires to beat the odds and earn their degrees, they had something extra to
celebrate Saturday, Dec. 17, when they crossed the commencement stage at
University of Wisconsin-Stout to receive their diplomas: They did it together.
Christine, 49, and Shelena,
30, are mother and daughter.
having a party,” Christine said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished.
This is something nobody can take away from us, ever.”
Christine earned a
degree in career and technical education. Shelena graduated in management. They
were supposed to graduate in separate ceremonies Saturday but, fittingly,
arranged to be at the same ceremony so they could share the experience and make
it easier for their contingent of family supporters.
Shelena knows its
special, although it wasn’t planned, to graduate with her mother. “I’m very
proud that my mom went back and did it later in life after she raised us. We
talked a lot, helped each other and cried a lot together. We took statistics
together and, oh my God, we needed the support,” Shelena said.
they’ve “been a support system for each other, but we’ve had our own
‘I did it’
Shelena may have had even more obstacles than her mom. Shelena’s children are
7, 4 and 2. While taking classes, she worked full-time in the Ho Chunk
education department and also held a part-time job for a time. “I would put the
kids to bed and do homework late into the night,” Shelena said, adding that her
husband, Norman, supported her efforts.
A 2004 Black River
Falls High School graduate, Shelena first earned an associate degree fromWestern Technical College in La Crosse about
five years ago before enrolling in 2014 in UW-Stout’s management program, which
accepted her credits.
“A bachelor’s was
always a goal of mine, since high school,” Shelena said. “Once I got my
associate degree, I learned to love learning and wanted to go on. I had a lot
of trying times, mainly on the personal end, life issues that you can’t
“I’m very proud
because I accomplished it. I did it.”
Christine will continue in the full-time tribal jobs they’ve held. Shelena
works in the Ho-Chunk Head Start program. In part because of her degree, she has
been promoted to Head Start accountant. The grant-funded program serves 118 Ho-Chunk
students at six centers in Wisconsin, she said.
Leading by example
Christine has worked
for the Ho-Chunk Nation for 26 years, the first 16 in management. The last 10
years she has been a training and development specialist in a variety of areas for
casino employees, including facilitating classes on customer service.
She was partly determined
to get her bachelor’s because “the world is
changing so fast that I needed to secure my future not only for my family, but
for myself in general. I wanted to enhance my skills and knowledge to make a
difference and help those around me. I encourage people to go to school,
especially our tribal members,” Christine said.
earned an associate degree at Western, one year after Shelena. At UW-Stout,
Christine had to learn new technology — it didn’t exist when she was growing up
— to take courses online.
always said, ‘You need to go to school. Ever since I was a young girl I wanted
to get a bachelor’s,” Christine said.
She started at UW-Eau
Claire in 1985 after graduating from high school but had to leave school
because of a motorcycle accident. Then came marriage and three children with
her husband, Dean Brown Sr., putting her dream on hold.
Along with family
members, one of Christine’s childhood and lifelong friends attend. With a
difficult home life, Christine struggled to learn as a child and the friend
often did Christine’s homework for her.
to her that I’m getting a college degree. She’s so proud of me,” Christine
“We offer a very heartfelt thank you to
all our family, friends and relatives who have supported us through this
journey," she added.
and daughter Christine, left, and Shelena Brown are all smiles after receiving
their diplomas Saturday at UW-Stout.
Brown is congratulated on her bachelor’s degree in management by Bob Salt, college dean.
Bottom: Christine Brown receives her bachelor's in career and technical education.