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Moms, daughters to graduate at ASU

Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack

ALBANY -- It's the countdown to Saturday's commencement at Albany State University.

The event will be unforgettable for two mothers and daughters in the Wright and Beach families. Both families reside in Albany.

Keshundra Wright, a psychology major, and her mother, Jennifer, a health care management major, began college at different times, but they'll march on the same day and sit a few rows apart.

Lesa Beach, who'll earn a master's degree as a family nurse practitioner, and her daughter, Courtney, a computer science major, are also among 406 ASU graduates who'll stroll the stage to the cheers and waves of supportive family members and friends.

There will be 312 bachelor's, 88 master's and six specialist degrees conferred. ASU's graduation ceremony takes place at 9:45 a.m. Saturday in the Albany Civic Center.

"The closer it gets to the ceremony, the more excited I get," said Jennifer Wright, a Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital employee.

She plans to work this week, and then take Friday off to attend a pre-commencement senior's reception in the Aerobics Room of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Gymnasium at 9 a.m. and the graduation rehearsal, which begins at 10 a.m., and takes place on the basketball court in the arena.

There were challenges on the journey to graduation for both mothers and daughters.

"I had kidney failure and in June began dialysis. I thought I wasn't going to make it, but I did with the support of friends, family and co-workers," Jennifer Wright said. She credits a cadre of ASU professors -- Cynthia Bennett, Cheryl Johnson, Sandra Washington, Robert Graper and Mary Morris, now deceased -- for helping her reach the milestone. "We encouraged each other," said Keshundra Wright.

"My daughter is proud of me," Beach said. "But she just doesn't know how proud I am of her. You have to be patient, keep the faith and keep God first. It was a struggle and I was tempted to give up, but kept going."

The commencement's keynote speaker is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Appointed to the position by President Obama in 2009, he was at the center of a story that attracted headlines when blogger Andrew Breitbart published video excerpts from a speech delivered by Shirley Sherrod, former Georgia director of rural development at the federal agency, to a gathering of NAACP members.

Sherrod later resigned from the agency under pressure from Vilsack's office. She was offered a job with USDA after the full video was circulated and added context to her videoed remarks, but declined. She also said she planned to sue Breitbart over the incident, but Breitbart died earlier this year.