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Anthony Taylor was excited to hand out invitations to his graduation from the University of Houston-Downtown to his family on Thanksgiving. To his surprise, however, he wasn’t the only one, as his mother followed with a stack of envelopes that revealed the very same information for the UHD ceremony with her own name and degree inscribed.
“Her picture was on an invitation saying that she’ll be graduating with her bachelor’s in communication [studies] from the University of Houston-Downtown the same day,” Taylor tells Yahoo Life, “I was confused.”
Taylor, who studied health professions at Baylor University, graduating in 2017, ended up pursuing his master’s in business administration at UHD in 2018. Without any evidence that a family member was attending the same school at the same time, he began questioning how it was possible that his mother, Renita Gray-Taylor, was enrolled.
“From the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2020, I had no idea my mom was in school,” Taylor says.
Gray-Taylor explains just how she kept it that way. “I knew Anthony’s schedule. So I knew what time he would be there, what time he won’t be there,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Because I knew he was going to classes at night, I knew I had to leave UHD before he gets down. So I started taking the classes and I never ran into him.”
And while she was tempted to reach out to her son on a few occasions with questions about courses or assignments, Gray-Taylor made sure to keep her secret just between herself and her husband.
“I didn’t want to get ahead of myself,” she says of keeping her return to school hush-hush. “I didn’t want to start something and then everyone anticipate me completing my education and then it becomes a letdown. I was apprehensive because you’re talking about an older lady versus younger students that will be in the class. I just never wanted to go ahead of myself and I just kept pushing.”
The mother of two explains that she had previously put her degree on hold to focus on her family. However, it was always a dream of hers to return to school.
“I was in church one day and my pastor, he spoke a word that stated, ‘If you are still breathing, then it’s not too late.’ And when he said that, it was like a lightbulb went off. And I just said to myself, ‘He’s talking to me. You’ve got to do it,’” she recalls of her decision to go back to college in 2018. “I just thought of those words and I registered for classes.”
On Saturday, Gray-Taylor and Taylor will be graduating together in a virtual ceremony held by the school. Although it isn’t the graduation that either of them expected, it might be even better.
“This is just something that can be seen as positive, as well as encouraging for someone else who may be experiencing the same feelings or apprehension that my mom experienced,” Taylor says.
“There are people who may have a dream, but don’t quite have the opportunity to complete the dream. And I just want to encourage them,” Gray-Taylor adds. “Don’t stop, never let your dream die. Go forward and get the empowerment that you need to make sure it becomes a reality.”
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