AVERY POINT, Conn. (AP) — It took Alicia Hernas, 33, so long to finish college she wasn't sure it was actually happening— until she walked to the front of the student auditorium Friday at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.
Her mother was in the audience. Carol McCoy, 68, has been enrolled in the same academic program, bachelor of general studies, as her daughter and finishes next year.
"It's been fun," McCoy said. "I enjoy it. Except she beat me, and I don't like that part."
More than 200 people filled the auditorium Friday for the 2015 graduation celebration for 86 undergraduate and 13 graduate students at UConn-Avery Point. The actual commencement will follow this weekend at the Storrs campus.
Graduates earned degrees with majors in American studies, English, marine sciences and maritime studies. The students' backgrounds were as varied as their classes. Particularly in the area of general studies, students included parents, grandparents, veterans and full-time employees looking for new careers.
Hernas is from New York and graduated from high school in 2000. She was attending Borough of Manhattan Community College on Sept. 11, 2001, and running late for a math class the morning of the terrorist attacks.
The college was evacuated before the twin towers collapsed, she said. In February 2002, she joined the U.S. Coast Guard. She moved to Connecticut in 2006.
Hernas finished her associate degree at Three Rivers Community College last year, one week before her son was born on May 22, 2014. She attended six or seven colleges before she could celebrate earning the bachelor's degree.
Her husband attended the ceremony Friday with the baby, 11 months; her daughter, 9, and her stepson, 12.
"I don't want to leave. I love it," she said of the area. Hernas served 10 years active duty in the Coast Guard and three years in the reserves. "It does have a very small-town feel, but has access to everything. I like raising my kids here. It's quiet and serene."
And her mother is here.
McCoy said she's been in school since 1964, was in the television and radio business in New York, and worked her way up from receptionist to vice president of a company, back when you could do that sort of thing.
She has four children, worked full time and interviewed and hired people with bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, or better. She didn't have one.
When she finally retired six years ago, she was restless.
"I was totally bored out of my mind after that fast pace," she said. McCoy moved from Long Island to her daughter's house in Groton.
She graduated from Three Rivers Community College two years ago with a 4.0 grade point average and immediately enrolled in UConn-Avery Point. At first, she wasn't supposed to tell anyone she was Hernas' mother. But her daughter called out "Mom!" the minute she saw her.
"We never planned it," McCoy said of enrolling in same program as her daughter. If they had class together, "She usually hated it because I would talk too much."
McCoy said she was just having fun. Her daughter was trying to keep her quiet.
"It was complete role reversal. Professors threatened to separate us," McCoy said.
Though her daughter finished the bachelor's degree first, McCoy said, "I am so thrilled my baby's graduating."
McCoy plans to keep going. Once she gets the first degree, she said, "I'm going to get a second one right after that."