Mother-daughter academic duo graduate together

17 Jun 2018 | Canada
Mother-daughter academic duo graduate together

When Mackenzie Gahagan-Stewart crossed the convocation stage to receive her master's degree in legal studies from Carleton University Wednesday, her mother wasn't in the audience to witness the proud moment — she was right beside her.

Suzanne Gahagan, 58, earned the same degree as her 25-year-old daughter, and picked up her diploma at the same time.

"It was a fantastic day and a wonderful end to a journey," Gahagan said. "I felt so proud to be [there] next to Mackenzie."

Gahagan last wore the cap and gown in the late 1990s when MacKenzie was just five. In the fall of 2016, after nearly two decades away from academia to raise her family, she returned to Carleton. Mackenzie had just completed her undergraduate degree and was about to begin her graduate studies.

'Pure accident'
That they ended up in the same program was "pure accident," Gahagan said, and the two only realized the coincidence once they'd both been accepted.

"Then we realized one of our greatest strengths we had was that we had great synergy together," Gahagan said.

"We were able to do our homework together at home in our pyjamas," Gahagan-Stewart said. "It grew on me quite quickly."

The two often buddied up on projects and presentations. Classmates remarked how closely they resembled one another, but the mother-daughter duo managed to keep their relationship secret — for a while.

"We fessed up the last year," Gahagan-Stewart said.

They even graduated with the same impressive grade point average of 3.8.

Special moment
Gahagan said it was a surprise when the university decided to recognize their special achievement by calling them up on stage together at convocation.

"I was so moved and so grateful that Carleton took the moment to recognize this unique situation," Gahagan said.

And they might be back: mother and daughter are considering a PhD together.

"We are not ruling anything out at this time," Gahagan-Stewart said.

Gahagan's message to anyone considering a return to school is "just do it." 

"You may be a bit rusty in the beginning and you may be humbled by the experience, but you will grow," she said. "Education is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is always there waiting for you."cbc