Without question, Commencement 2016 will be an emotional and unforgettable time for Alcorn State University’s graduates. However, for two particular graduates, this year’s event will be even more memorable. Leslie Walker, 57, and Ricarla Shotwell, 23, grandmother and granddaughter, are both scheduled to graduate from Alcorn on Saturday, May 7.

Walker and Shotwell, originally from Columbus, Ohio, currently reside in Byram, Mississippi. Since she was 18 months old, Shotwell has been raised by her loving grandmother. For as long as they can remember, the two have always been extremely close.

“I admire my grandmother and I’m proud to follow in her footsteps, including coming to Alcorn,” says Shotwell.

Walker adds, “It was Ricarla’s idea that we graduate together.”

While Shotwell is a full-time student, Walker is both a student and employee, serving as administrative assistant in the Extension Program, Hinds County Office. With long-term goals in mind, Shotwell chose to major in child development and family studies while Walker majored in agribusiness management.

Walker has admitted that she has had to overcome many obstacles being a non-traditional student, but credits all of her success to her School of AREAS family and her immediate family.

“Alcorn has been good to us,” she acknowledges.

Although the two did not take any classes together, they said that it felt good to attend school together.

“I was able to help Ricarla when she needed it; it was convenient with me working there and I was able to see her progress. I had eyes everywhere,” indicates Walker.

Walker and Shotwell state that they have learned a lot throughout this experience, yet it was not without some trials along the way. They recall wanting to give up at times, but counted on each other for the extra motivation that they needed to pull through.

Being the first person in her family to graduate from college, Walker knew that she had to finish because everyone looked up to her.

“If I would quit, then they would quit; I couldn’t let that happen,” she states. This process has taught Walker and Shotwell the true depth of their determination to be successful.

The two have since been recognized for their hard work. Shotwell maintains a 3.2 GPA and has been documented as a Presidential and Dean’s Scholar for her achievements in the classroom. Furthermore, she is a member of various campus organizations such as the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society, where she serves as president, and the Child Development Club, where she serves as secretary. Shotwell has also served as a student recruiter.

Alternatively, Walker has received awards for her outstanding commitment to the Extension program such as the Shining Star Award, Award of Excellence, and Support Staff of the Year. She is also a dedicated member of the Leading Ladies Society, a nonprofit organization that is committed to enhancing the lives of all women through empowerment, support, networking and education.

After graduation, both Walker and Shotwell plan on returning to Alcorn to attend graduate school. Ricarla is choosing between computer science and social work. She remains open-minded about her career plans after school. On the other hand, Walker is aiming for two master’s degrees: in hospitality management and workforce education leadership. She has an entrepreneurial spirit and plans to own a sandwich shop in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands after retiring from Alcorn in 2019.

“I am still waiting on the excitement of it all to resonate with me. It’s been a long time coming, and so many times I didn’t think I was going to make it. I’m very proud of us both,” exclaims Walker.

Student Media Intern Renita Lacy, contributed to this story.