When Jennifer Mull-Brooks enrolled in the University of Southern Maine’s (USM’s) Master in Leadership studies program, she thought she would be walking the stage at Commencement alone.
A “professional student,” with roots to USM stemming back to 2001, Jennifer expected to graduate with her second master’s degree next year. But when her daughter, Olivia Mull, said it would be “sick” if the two graduated together, Jennifer accelerated her studies and took extra classes to graduate alongside the 22-year-old.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Not only will Jennifer accept her diploma with her daughter, she’ll also be accompanied by her son, Charlie Mull, and his fiancée, Lyndsey Anderson, who will also be accepting their degrees at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on May 11.
“As they wrap up college, it’s cool to think about it all coming full circle,” Jennifer, who is the current assistant principal of Westbrook High School, said. “They spent a lot of time watching me stress out … but I think having it come to fruition and everybody coming and finishing together is super unique.”
Olivia, a former player for the Southern Maine Huskies women's soccer team, will earn her bachelor’s in tourism and hospitality, with a concentration in sport tourism and adventure tourism. She said when she realized her mother could possibly graduate with her, Charlie and Lyndsey, she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.
“We have such a close family, and not many kids can say that their mom graduated with them,” she said. “I like to say that I’m graduating with my brother and my mom and one of my best friends. I think it would be a really neat thing to look back on.”
“Neat?” Charlie, 23, said from across the table.
“What? It’s a good word,” Olivia responded.
Sick, neat, whatever you wish to call it, it’s evident that, for these graduates, Commencement will be a family affair — and certainly cause for celebration.
The three undergraduates have shared classes since they attended Cheverus High School. After a brief separation, when Olivia and Charlie, 23, transferred back to USM from other endeavors, the three were reunited.
Lyndsey, 21, a double major in tourism and hospitality and communication — also Charlie's area of study — said the experience of seeing everyone grow together has enriched her university experience.
“There’s always been a friendly face working on projects together and being together,” she said. “We all kind of found our way back here and are all pleased with how our college experience went once we made it back to USM. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
After graduation, Olivia hopes to travel and explore work abroad in sport-training programs for children and high school students. Charlie — who also played soccer for the USM Huskies — is looking into becoming a personal trainer and, following a summer internship, Lyndsey will continue to work a full-time position at IDEXX in human resources.
And for those wondering, Charlie and Lyndsey have already set their wedding date: April 25, 2020.
Jennifer is no stranger to USM. In 2001, she earned her bachelor’s in criminology. In 2010, she earned her first master’s in educational leadership, and has completed several graduate and advanced degree certificates since (on track to earn another, in adult and higher learning, in the next year or two).
So what keeps her coming back to USM?
“For me, the flexibility the university allows for students. They really recognize that not all students are the same. The flexibility makes it so it’s doable for all of us,” she said. “It’s very student-centered. The responsive faculty push you the way they should pushed, but really recognize everybody's different.”
Story and photo by Alan Bennett // Office of Public Affairs