Mom follows her twin sons to Florida A&M University – and earns her own degree
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In most cases, college-bound students find themselves counting down the days, eager to leave the home nest and parents behind, to move on campus, meet new friends and get underway with studies.
Parents, in the meantime, shield their anxieties and wish them well, while inwardly jumping for joy at this rite-of-passage send-off.
But, in rare circumstances, there are cases like Madelyn McClarey and her twin sons’ decision to study at Florida A&M University – together.
Rather than leaving mom back in South Florida, Aaron and Aubrey Hough insisted she join them in Tallahassee.
On Saturday, they will celebrate as McClarey crosses the stage at the Lawson Center, graduating with a degree in English from Florida A&M.
For the single mom, it represents a finish line that she’s been edging toward since completing business school in Staten Island, then returning to South Florida following a divorce, holding down full-time jobs, volunteering in her sons’ schools and traveling with them as a band parent.
But what landed her at FAMU was the opportunity presented to her twins, Aubrey, a music business major who will be graduating this fall, and Aaron, who is earning a specialized degree in music composition and expects to graduate in the summer or fall 2020.
The family that studies together stays together
McClarey's sons did well in their studies and are talented musicians, earning Best & Brightest scholarships, meaning they could have gone to Broward College at no cost.
But both were inspired by Chandler Wilson, their band director at Hollywood Hills High School in Hollywood, a FAMU graduate and former Marching 100 member.
He planted the seed.
The twins, enamored with FAMU, were accepted and had the opportunity to join the band. But there was a catch.
“I knew they wanted to go to FAMU, they loved FAMU, but they looked at me and asked, ‘What about you?’ " McClarey said. " I told them I would stay in South Florida and finish my degree, but they said they would not go to FAMU if I didn’t come to Tallahassee.”
That nearly floored her.
“I was really shocked, I laughed,” McClarey said, sitting in a corner of the busy Coleman Library a week before finals. “I knew we were really close, but I didn’t expect them to react like that.
"But I said, ‘Fine. I’ll pack, let’s go.'”
McClarey took a one-year leave of absence from her job as an elementary school language coach and found a townhouse in Tallahassee. The twins were on campus and now live in off-campus housing. McClarey and an older son, Blake, who is finishing his studies at Tallahassee Community College, live together.
She enrolled at TCC, earning an associate of arts degree, with honors. In 2016, she enrolled at FAMU through a program that offers guaranteed admission to students from transfer schools meeting academic standards.
She’s majoring in English, with a minor in education.
“My mother’s family is from North Carolina A&T and Fayetteville State, and so growing up, we were always encouraged to write, to speak properly, to not only verbalize our ideas, but also to be able to write fluently,” she said of her choice of major.
At FAMU, she has thrived, immersing herself in organizations such as the FAMU English Guild, where she served as president, the National Council of Negro Women, and serving as historian for Phi Delta Kappa, a professional organization for educators.
During the summer, she’s worked with the North Florida Freedom Schools program at FAMU’s Developmental Research School, which helps bridge the gap for children with reading deficiencies.
“Madelyn McClarey is absolutely amazing,” said Natalie King-Pedroso, associate professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages. “She is one of the most life-affirming people I've met during my tenure at FAMU.”
'We look out for each other'
McClarey's twins have their own life on campus, but they remain close. She recalls one conversation following their performance at a football game.
“I asked them if they needed me to do anything for them and they said, ‘No, Mom, you have done everything a parent should do.’ “
Aubrey said it was “important” for them to have their mother move to Tallahassee from their base in South Florida.
“It wasn't exactly luxurious, but our mother was smart enough to make her situation work, and we were all the more fortunate to grow up how we did in the sense that because of her balancing struggle and success the way she did, we developed our own values.”
Aaron is equally inspired.
“I'm most proud of the fact that she was able to earn this degree despite having gone through so much as a single parent and as a person,” he said. “I'm glad that she was able to see her decision with this degree through, and it means a lot to our family that she is able to attain her degree finally, regardless of the many familial situations throughout her collegiate experience.”
McClarey is planning on continuing her educational journey at FAMU. She’s applying to a multidisciplinary graduate program, where she will major in history.
Pausing for a moment, she is reflective. It hasn’t always been easy, but she and her sons remain focused. She’s proud that their independence has not diminished the close bond that has been affirming for each of them.
“We look out for each other,” she said. “We are willing to wait our turn for great things to happen. We sacrifice time, material things. That’s just what we do. We celebrate each other all the time.”
Follow Byron Dobson on Twitter: @byrondobson.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Mom follows her twin sons to Florida A&M University – and earns her own degree