Two Clemson families walk the stage together
This year’s spring Commencement ushered a new class of graduates into the growing family of Clemson alumni. While pride and camaraderie were felt throughout the assembly of caps and gowns, the bonds of the Clemson family were particularly meaningful for four degree recipients, a father-son and father-daughter pair, who graduated together at the May 11 ceremonies.
Gilbert Miller completed a Ph.D. in plant and environmental sciences, and his son Jesse graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Bart Thompson graduated with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and his daughter Anna received a bachelor’s degree in biology. While sharing the stage with parents isn’t typical of most college graduates, the Millers and the Thompsons feel that their time at Clemson was enriched by spending it with family.
When Gilbert Miller began his doctoral study, two of his children, 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.”
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. He completed his bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Mississippi State University and a master’s degree in horticulture at Clemson.
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.
While striking a balance among a full-time career, home life and doctoral study proved challenging, Gilbert enjoyed the time he was able to spend with his children on campus. He met up with Jesse for lunch and went on bike rides with him on Issaqueena Trail. He was also able to attend many performances at the Brooks Center in which Corrina, a performing arts major, participated.
“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.
Anna and Bart Thompson received their acceptance letters within a few days of one another, and both were excited to embark on a new stage in their lives and careers. Like the Millers, Bart and Anna’s time together as students allowed them a unique and enriching Clemson experience.
While working at Michelin, Bart became involved with a research project for a mechanical engineering senior design class at Clemson. Noticing his interest in and penchant for academia, the professors he worked with on the project suggested that he pursue doctoral study at Clemson in mechanical engineering. Bart had received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana Technical College and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in the same subject. For his doctoral study, he undertook a research project on non-pneumatic tire technology funded by Michelin and the federal government.
Like Gilbert, Bart worked full time throughout his studies and traveled to campus for classes. He found the transition back to school after 25 years in the workforce to be initially demanding.
“I was old enough to be the dad of most of the kids in my classes, and after that long out of college, I had forgotten some of the basics,” he said. “But I took one class at a time and quickly got back into the habit.”
Amid his busy schedule managing classes and full-time employment, Bart caught up with Anna over lunch once a week. Anna decided to attend Clemson and major in biology after visiting and falling in love with the school spirit and collegial atmosphere.
“My dad got to follow me to college like every dad with a daughter wishes he could,” she said. “While it was awkward at times, it was really great to be able to share with him what I was learning and to talk about my interests, especially as my classes became more advanced. It was nice because we could share perspectives from our two different fields.”
Bart embraced several aspects of campus life during his studies. He attended football games and studied during finals week in the library, taking breaks to enjoy midnight pancakes and other snacks provided for students. While he appreciated his time at the University for many reasons, he says his favorite thing about Clemson was being able to see Anna on a regular basis.
Anna and Bart graduated in the same ceremony, and Anna says she was proud to point out her dad to her friends as he received his degree. Anna hopes to pursue a graduate degree in occupational therapy in the future, and Bart says that all options are on the table for him as he moves forward.
Both the Millers and the Thompsons 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.
“We’re Clemson graduates now,” Bart said. “We may be 25 years apart, but we were there walking across the same stage. It was a great feeling.”
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