Three generations of one Maine family will graduate Saturday

When Tanner Meserve walks across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree on May 4, he’ll have some familiar company. His mother, Melissa Meserve, will cross the same stage. And his grandmother, Brenda Plummer, will join them both.  

Three generations, three graduates, one day. 

“I mentioned that, ‘Oh, both my mom and my grandma graduate on the same day and we’re all going to be together,’ and my entire class was just like, ‘What?’” Tanner said with a laugh.

Tanner, 22, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences as part of the Occupational Therapy accelerated track. Melissa, 45, will graduate with a master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education. Brenda, 66, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and minors in Psychology and Advocacy. 

While Tanner and Melissa will receive their degrees from the University of Southern Maine, Brenda attended the University of Maine at Augusta. But because UMA’s graduation is the same morning as USM’s, university officials agreed to let her march with her daughter and grandson at USM’s ceremony in Portland. 

“Tanner graduated (from high school) and didn’t get a ceremony because of COVID, and I thought it was very important that I be there for him,” Brenda said. 

Of the three, her degree was the longest in the making. Brenda graduated from high school in 1976, but women weren’t encouraged to attend college at the time, so she spent the next four decades raising a family and working as a truck driver and at Home Depot. When Brenda retired, Melissa urged her to consider higher education. 

“She brought me here (to UMA) and I was addicted the moment I entered the building,” Brenda said. “Using my brain, it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ This is healthy for me, doing all this stuff I knew I was capable of doing.”

Melissa was no stranger to college as a non-traditional student. A stay-at-home mom, she began taking online classes from UMA a little over a decade ago. She initially majored in Education but soon realized working with children “was not my thing.” Melissa still wanted to stay in Education, though, and she enjoyed tutoring adults, so she switched to Liberal Arts with a self-designed minor in Education and Leadership. Before her bachelor’s was even complete, she began taking graduate classes for Adult and Higher Education at USM. 

Tanner’s journey was more traditional. He graduated from high school in 2020 and enrolled in USM. But it also took him some time to find the right program. Wanting to help people, he initially majored in Nursing, but it wasn’t a good fit. 

“It just didn’t feel right, if that makes sense,” he said.

Tanner’s advisor suggested Occupational Therapy. The only problem: OT is a master’s degree program. He would need to work on his bachelor’s first and then enter the program as an accelerated student, taking master’s level classes while still an undergrad. 

Tanner wasn’t intimidated. 

Tanner Meserve, center, with mother Melissa Meserve, left, and grandmother Brenda Plummer, right. All three will receive their degrees during USM’s 144th Commencement on May 4.

“I love it. It’s the perfect fit. It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.  

The trio, who live on the same property in Limington, spent the past four years helping each other through school — proofreading papers, tutoring in math, serving as a sounding board. 

“It’s so funny because seven weeks into the semester I look at everybody and I’m like. ‘OK, this is the time when everybody starts freaking out. Can you hold on?’ Even if they’re having trouble or not, it’s a great support network,” Melissa said. 

They’ve also learned from each other’s programs. 

“I’ve integrated some (OT) fidgets and stuff into my adult ed classes. So much fun! When your students are 45 years old and they see fidgets on the table, they always come back,” Melissa said. “We have these huge conversations at night. Everybody comes home, ‘And what did you learn today?’”

While they won’t graduate until May 4, their degree programs have already helped Brenda and Melissa in the working world. Brenda currently works for UMA as an administrative specialist. Melissa is an academic coordinator for the Saco/OOB Adult and Continuing Education program. 

The trio won’t be alone at USM’s 144th Commencement ceremony. Friends and family — some of whom are in college themselves — will fill the stands. There will be a celebration afterward, and a road trip to Las Vegas for Brenda and Melissa.

While Tanner’s near future is set — he’s already started graduate classes for his master’s degree in OT — Brenda’s and Melissa’s education plans are a little more flexible post-graduation. Brenda is considering a degree in psychology. Melissa plans to stay out of college for a while, but no one believes she actually will.

“I’m not getting my doctorate. I’m going to keep saying that,” Melissa said. 

“You are too!” Brenda said.