Like mother, like daughter.

Joelle and Megan Kessler will don caps and gowns and march to receive their diplomas at The College of New Jersey on May 19.

Daughter Megan will receive her bachelor’s degree in English with dual Spanish and Criminology minors, while Joelle will receive a master’s in Literacy with a Reading Specialist certification.

Megan, a 2020 Somerville High School graduate, is completing college a year early. Joelle, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Criminology from TCNJ, then Trenton State College, in 1993, is a third-grade teacher in Somerville. She previously taught in North Brunswick before staying home when her second daughter and son were born and returned to the classroom about 11 years ago.

Graduating together is not something mother and daughter planned, though they did joke about the possibility.

“So much would have had to fall into place,” Megan said. “It did, but it was kind of an accident. And it was almost like a running joke for three years. … All of my hard work and all of her hard work coming to fruition and being celebrated together on the same day − I think it’s going to be really special.”

Graduation day, Friday, will be a tightly organized affair, with Megan’s ceremony in the morning and Joelle’s at night.

“I will be bawling,” Joelle said.

Their paths to graduation had many unexpected twists and turns. The pandemic interfered with Megan’s plan to live and be on campus as a freshman. And Joelle was not a big fan of the role technology played when school went fully remote.

Thank goodness for Megan, Joelle said. She relied on her daughter’s tech expertise to get her through Zoom classes. They leaned on each other for support and persevered together.

“The past three years have been a progression from not being allowed on campus at all to now, with no masks and no virtual learning,” Megan said. “It was interesting for every single year, being present for every single part of that transition from the beginning to the end.”

While it was nice for Megan to have Mom along for the “crazy” ride, Joelle thinks it was she who reaped more benefits.

“I found it to be a sense of relief,” Joelle said. “It really was nice to have the younger tech-savvy generation there.”

Megan likewise said she felt some relief experiencing college alongside her mom.

“I was experiencing what my mom’s experiencing, and what both my siblings are experiencing. We were all kind of in this together,” she said, “But then having two of us specifically at the same school was a good way to be there for each other, especially at that first year of COVID where every couple of weeks there was a new email about what next semester is going to look like.”

“Megan had not met anybody at the college. She didn’t know anybody,” Joelle said. “So she was navigating this platform without knowing anyone there as a freshman, and I’m trying to navigate it not really knowing people, because we had kind of been pulled out pretty quickly. So, it was kind of nice that we both really only had each other to figure it all out.”

Megan finally got the on-campus experience the following year, much to Joelle’s relief.

“I knew that she was in a great place,” Mom said. “I knew that she was going to have a great experience. As much as I’m a mom and I love having her home, I knew the importance of the value of living on campus and sharing that experience and wanting her to have a ‘real college experience.’ I wanted that for her. So I was excited.”

And once a week, mother and daughter met for dinner. And Mom got to pay.

“Coming to my classes on Wednesday was always nice because at 6 o’clock on the dot every week I got a text message, ‘Do you think you’re getting out early and can take me to dinner?’” Joelle said. “We had a couple of favorite local places that we would sneak out after class and go have dinner together.”

As Megan put it, she got the “best of both worlds.” And it’s a tradition she is more than willing to continue.

“Yeah, if she wants to keep paying for dinner, we can go every day,” the daughter said.

Joelle recalled how she unexpectedly ended up at Trenton State in the ‘90s.

“I was, of course, going to go to some big-name school, tons of money and my father said, ‘You’re going to look to Trenton State before you go anywhere. Because I think it would be perfect,’” she said. “And when I looked at it, I was like, ‘You know what? We don’t need to go anywhere else. It is perfect. I love it here.'”

Megan also was adamant that TCNJ would not be her school of choice, despite Mom’s persuasive “suggestion.”

“We got there, and we walked around, and we laughed, and I was like, ‘Ah, I think that this is definitely where I’m going to go now,'” she said.

“Thirty years later, my daughter did the same,” Joelle said, laughing.

After they get their diplomas, Joelle will head back to her third graders and Megan, after a gap year, will attend law school. She currently works for the Norris McLaughlin law firm in Bridgewater.

“It’s not about me, it’s about her,” Mom said. “What she has accomplished in some of the most difficult and trying times. And she’s done it very well. She put a lot on her plate and kind of just rolled with it. I am honored to be graduating with Megs”

Source: My Central Jersey