Mother and Daughters Graduate Together at East Stroudsburg University
When Stephanie Letki was a sophomore in high school and her sister, Alexandra, was a junior, their mother, Elaine, decided to take a college-level class. Elaine was a stay-at home mom from Milford, Pa. with a love of history. “I just wanted to take one class, just to see if I liked it,” she said. She had always heard great things about East Stroudsburg University, so she decided that is where she would take the class. A few teachers at her daughters’ school, Delaware Valley High School, were ESU graduates. “If people like Mr. Valentine and Mr. Bates were products of ESU, I knew I wanted to be too,” she said of the high school teachers.
Alexandra graduated from high school in 2012, and Stephanie in 2013. They both took classes at Sussex County Community College in New Jersey before joining their mother as ESU students. By this time all three were enrolled as full-time students and had a great car pool. Elaine continued to follow her passion as a history major, and her youngest daughter followed in her footsteps. “History is the only thing I ever felt I was really good at,” Stephanie said. Alexandra took a slightly different route as an English major in the creative writing track. “I like to write, but I do like history too,” Alexandra said. “History is filled with stories!”
“The first time my mom and I were enrolled in the same class she offered to change her schedule. She didn’t want to take away from my college experience,” Stephanie said. “But I insisted she didn’t. It didn’t bother me to be in class with my mom. At first, I was nervous I’d only be known as Elaine’s daughter,” she said. “But, that wasn’t the case at all. Once I knew I can be my own person, I liked having classes with her.” In fact, they all really liked having classes together. Over the course of their undergraduate careers the mother and daughters took several classes together.
Last year, as they were planning their schedules for the 2016-17 school year Elaine and Alexandra were looking ahead to their senior year. Stephanie, despite being a year younger, realized she was only a few credits behind her family. “I took classes over winter break and I am taking a heavy course load this semester. It’s a lot, but I did it,” Stephanie said. The three Letki women will graduate together on Saturday, May 6.
A few extra classes wasn’t the only roadblock standing in the way of this family celebration. Elaine had some health problems that came to a head over winter break. “There is a history of heart disease in my family,” Elaine said. “I have heart palpitations sometimes, but they were becoming more frequent and I passed out.” She went to the doctor and was told she needed immediate heart surgery. She told the doctor the semester begins in a week, so maybe it’s not the best time. “I remember he looked at me sort of funny. He said, ‘I just told you that you can die,’” Elaine recalled. Her daughters encouraged her to take some time off to take care of herself. But Elaine was determined to graduate with her girls. After the surgery, when she started the spring 2017 semester she was still weak. “We became the parents,” Alexandra said. “We carried her books for her and made sure one of us was always with her.”
After spending all day together on campus, the three go home and spend their nights together doing homework and studying. “Dad sometimes just disappears when he sees all the books and papers laid out. He knows to give us space to get our work done,” Alexandra said. “He really is so excited for us, though,” Stephanie added. So are their grandparents, Elaine’s parents. “I can only imagine how sick my parents’ friends are of hearing about us. They are just as excited as we are,” Elaine said.
It’s not unusual for parents to cry as they watch their child graduate, and Elaine is no different. “I am sure I am going to cry my eyes out. I am so proud of them,” she said. That emotion is reciprocated. “We are so proud of our mother,” Alexandrea said. “It’s not easy going back to school as an adult. She did it, and she excelled.” All three excelled, and they will each graduate with honors. “To share this journey with my daughters,” Elaine reflected, “It really is a gift.”