June 28, 2010

Aunt Awards Niece Medallion at Center for Distance Learning Graduation

Shirley Pippins and Michelle Dupree-Asberry with Hugh Hammett

Michelle Dupree-Asberry came from a high-achieving family. Her aunt Shirley Pippins is senior vice president of programs and services for the American Council on Education (ACE), one of the foremost organizations focusing on advocacy and the needs institutions of higher education. Her cousins have earned a J.D., a master’s in math from Harvard, and an M.Div. from Duke University. Her grandmother was a school teacher.

Dupree-Asberry, 42, married after high school and had two children. She went to college for a couple of years, but didn’t finish. “”She had the feeling that she couldn’t get ‘unstuck’” says Pippins.

One day, niece and aunt were sitting in church and heard a sermon on investing in people, and sharing in the harvest. “Michelle had tried everything to go back to school, and something would always happen,” says Pippins. She turned to her niece that day and said, “Michelle, I am going to invest in you.” Dupree-Asberry stayed with Pippins that summer, as she had for a period during her teen years, and began her quest for a degree at Empire State College in the fall of 2007.

“For me earning a college degree was not motivated by getting a promotion or receiving recognition on my job,” Dupree-Asberry says. “I was blessed, I always received promotions and accomplished much. However, education means everything to my family; especially my grandmother. She was a school teacher since the age of 16 and built her life and ours on education. During my first round at higher education my grandmother passed away. Due to her death and other issues, I fell into depression and dropped out. From that day forward I felt incomplete and as if I did not keep my end of the deal. Earning my degree was a promise that I had to keep to her.”

Pippins says that as Dupree-Asberry worked toward her goal, she began to see a transformation occur in her niece. “I saw Michelle start off very insecure, and then, after feedback from her advisor, I saw her confidence grow. In that short period of time, the difference in how she was writing and comporting herself was amazing. Seeing the way education actually empowered a person and transformed a person, is what we as educators talk about all the time, but it’s not that often we get to see it up close and personal.”

“I learned early in life that ‘every bump is a boost,’” says Dupree-Asberry. “My aunt was there throughout the entire process. Although I had given up, she was my total encouragement to return to school. She was the bucket that caught every tear when I fell into a state of fear ... the plate that fed my spirit when I felt I could not make it ... the hand that stroked my back when I needed calm from a night of anxiety and she was the voice of my grandmother who told me to keep going, hold on to God’s hand and let him guide me. She was the boost that I needed to get over my bumps.”

On Saturday, June 19 at the City Center in Saratoga Springs, Dupree-Asberry was one of nearly 200 present and a total of 850 adult learners who earned degrees from the college’s Center for Distance Learning. Her aunt had requested to be there with her as the medallion was placed around her neck. Dressed in long, light blue robes, and participating as part of the platform party, Pippins rose when Dupree-Asberry’s name was called. She slipped the medallion around her neck, and they turned to smile at the camera.

“In that moment, my heart was filled with extreme joy and pride,” said Dupree-Asberry. “When my aunt began to place the medallion over my head, she wasn’t just my aunt, who had earned multiple degrees and accomplishments, but she was my partner; I felt as if the deal was being sealed. In that moment, Empire State College put a “Good Housekeeping Seal” – so to speak – on what it means to have family share in a journey of joy. I knew that my grandmother was proud. I finally received the baton and now my job has just begun.”

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