From left: Gilbert and Jesse Miller

From left: Gilbert and Jesse Miller

On the day of Clemson’s spring Commencement ceremonies, several degree recipients gathered in front of their favorite Clemson monuments to pose with family and friends in graduation attire. For Jesse Miller, this ritual signified pride in both his own accomplishments and those of his father, Gilbert, who posed beside him in his own cap and gown, proudly displaying a doctorate degree.

After years together as Clemson students, the father and son pair received their degrees in the same ceremony on May 11. Gilbert completed a Ph.D. in plant and environmental sciences, and Jesse graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

Gilbert decided to return to Clemson for doctoral study after beginning a research assignment for the Watermelon Association of South Carolina. Having worked as a distinguished county extension agent at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville for more than 20 years, he found doctoral study necessary for the level of research he wished to achieve in his field.

Gilbert completed his bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Mississippi State University and a master’s degree in horticulture at Clemson, where he met his wife, Minnie. They settled in Bamberg and had four children: Corrina, who graduated from Clemson in 2010; Anona, a full-time student at Appalachian State University, who is currently taking summer classes at Clemson; Bonnie, who will be entering Clemson as a freshman this coming fall; and Jesse, who graduated with his father this semester.

When Gilbert began his doctoral study, Corrina and Jesse were enrolled at Clemson. As a joke, he suggested that they share a house together.

“I told them I would help them with their homework, make sure they get enough rest and keep an eye on who they dated,” he said. “Jesse took it well, but his sister was horror-stricken. They were happy to hear it was just a joke.”

While completing his Ph.D., Gilbert took courses online and came to campus for a few days every other week to talk with his professors. According to Gilbert, shuffling home life and schoolwork often proved challenging.

“I had to set aside hobbies and activities that I was accustomed to in order to make time for studying,” he said. “My family was extremely patient and understanding, though. I have a long list of things to catch up on now.”

While his schedule was demanding, Gilbert did find time to enjoy being on campus with his children. He met up with Jesse for lunch and went on bike rides with him on Issaqueena Trail. He also participated in intercollegiate bike races.

“I remember pulling up to the starting line for one of my races, and some of the students around me asked me if I was seriously going to do this,” he recalled laughing. “It wasn’t easy, but I actually ended up beating several competitors.”

Gilbert was able to attend many performances at the Brooks Center in which Corrina, a performing arts major, participated. In all of the activities he took part in with his children, Gilbert strove to maintain a healthy balance between father and friend.

“I had to put things in perspective and think back to when I was an undergraduate,” he said. “I wanted to let them be who they were and enjoy Clemson as a student with them.”

Jesse appreciated the professional relationship he and his father were able to cultivate as fellow students.

“Beyond communicating as father and son, we could network and form contacts with people in our fields that benefited both of us,” he said. “If my dad needed IT help, for example, I could provide those contacts for him. Having those mutual connections and establishing a network of people we both know made Clemson feel more like home.”

Both Jesse and Gilbert were drawn to Clemson’s small-town atmosphere and sense of community, and both have enjoyed forging strong ties within the University’s family and their own.

“Whereas some universities are situated close to certain towns, with Clemson, the town and the University are one and the same,” said Jesse. “I love how easy it is to bridge the gap between campus and community here.”

Gilbert and Jesse say that Commencement ceremonies were unforgettable and momentous experiences for each of them, both as a celebration of their own accomplishments and the achievements of their family members.

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