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Mother, Daughter Battle Cancer Together, Earn NWCC Degrees

Teresa Wilbourn of Sardis, right, and her daughter Treesa, graduated from Northwest Mississippi Community College with Associate of Applied Science degrees in Early Childhood Education Technology on May 16. Photo by LaJuan Tallo

Teresa Wilbourn always emphasized the importance of getting a college education to her three children as they were growing up in Sardis, Miss.
Little did she know she would one day share her own college graduation ceremony with her daughter Treesa. Both women graduated from Northwest Mississippi Community College with Associate of Applied Science degrees in Early Childhood Education Technology (ECET) on May 16. Neither of them started their careers at Northwest pursuing ECET.
Teresa, who was honored as Outstanding Student in ECET, graduated from North Panola High School in 1987 and attended Northwest from 1987-1989, studying secretarial science and business administration. She got married and decided not to return to school immediately. She opted instead to work at least part time, but to also have time to spend with her children, seeing to their education. “It took me 22 years to get back, but it always stayed in my mind from 1989 on that I had to go back to college and finish my degree. I never gave up on coming back to college,” Teresa said.
She worked in retail management for several years, and was also inspired by some of the college age girls who worked for her. They encouraged her to come back to school, so when her youngest son was 13, she decided to return to Northwest to finish her degree.
She enrolled as a business administration major. It happened to be the same year her daughter was graduating from high school. “She really didn’t want me to go to college with her,” Teresa said, laughing. She found the changes in classroom technology after being away from school for such a long time to be a challenge, and was researching other majors when she read the course descriptions for ECET. “I thought, ‘This is so me. This is what I was born to do.’ Education and children have always been close to my heart. I guess that was why I was always so involved with my children,” Teresa said.
When daughter Treesa graduated from North Panola in 2011, she enrolled at Northwest as an Elementary Education major. Treesa had a special love for children in her own heart, having volunteered in high school at the Boys and Girls Club of Batesville. “I loved being hands-on with the children,” she said. “At the Boys and Girls Club I tutored and worked as an office assistant. It was so much fun. Children can brighten up your day, no matter what sort of mood you are in.”
Treesa was active in several groups in high school including flags, Delta Gems, DECA and was selected for a Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), a leadership development program, where she attended a conference to develop leadership skills. Treesa decided to change her major to ECET when she saw what her mother was experiencing in the program. Teresa encouraged her to give it a try, and Treesa found that the program really suited her, too. “I wanted to be more interactive with the little ones. I really enjoyed the lab experience, learning about nutrition and being able to cook for them. I discovered it was what I really wanted to do,” Treesa said.
Their journey was not without obstacles, however. Teresa’s parents, who lived next door to the family, were both ill, and Teresa shared the responsibility with her three sisters to care for them. Her dad had been in a car accident in 2010 that had left him disabled. Last year, her mother became ill in June with what was later diagnosed as cancer. “My mother encouraged me to continue on and finish college. I would have put my classes on hold, had I known how sick she really was,” Teresa said.
She completed the ECET program on December 11 and ran to the hospital to share the news with her mom. “She was so happy about me finally finishing. She passed away on Dec. 21. It was a really tough time for the whole family,” Teresa said. In the middle of her last semester, while Teresa was dealing with her mother’s illness, she got a negative result on her own mammogram. “I could not deal with it right then, so I went back in February, and the spot they had seen was still there. I had a biopsy in April, and was told I had breast cancer,” Teresa said.
She had her first surgery, a lumpectomy, four days before graduation and has had two other procedures since then to remove more tissue and a lymph node. “My results came back negative for cancer this last time, but we are staying on top of this,” Teresa said. Treesa, who is a third shift manager at McDonald’s in Batesville, completed her courses in May. “With my work schedule and with losing my grandmother and my mother’s illness, there were many days I wanted to give up, but I kept going. I knew that is what my grandma would have wanted me to do,” Treesa said.
Both women hold the ECET program in high esteem. “I think I fell in love with it the first week. The instructors are so hands-on and they taught us well. They were so supportive of me and what I was dealing with in my personal life,” Teresa said. Treesa agreed. “I loved everything about it – the instructors, working with the kids, the classroom, lectures and cooking. There was never a day when I got up and dreaded coming to school,” Treesa said.
Teresa hopes their story will encourage others to pursue a college degree. “Don’t let anything stop you from doing what you want to do. You can overcome obstacles. I want to be an inspiration to someone. You can do it with lots of prayer, and with God you can do anything,” Teresa said.
Dr. Alice Camp, ECET instructor, was inspired by the mother,daughter team. “College graduation is one of many milestones, but for this mother and daughter it is even more memorable because they graduated together,” she said. “I was honored to know both and serve as their adviser and instructor in Early Childhood Education Technology. Teresa and Treesa both not only demonstrated a heart for children, but a heart of caring for their peers in the program. They were always willing to assist with any needs before being asked. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.”
The ECET program is offered on the Senatobia campus. For more information on the ECET program at Northwest, visit the college’s website at www.northwestms.edu or email Camp at acamp@northwestms.edu.
 LuJuan Tallo works in the communications office at Northwest Community College.

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