A historically Black university in Alabama was the stage for a rare showcasing of family excellence.
Lauren Salter and her son Courtney graduated from Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama, just two days apart during a weekend of commencement festivities on the Montgomery campus.
For Lauren Salter, it was a long-anticipated milestone made extra special because she received her degree on her 55th birthday.
“I had no idea that this was going to happen like this,” she told Atlanta Black Star. “I just made up in my mind that nothing’s going to stop me. And ASU reached out and embraced me…They didn’t know my story. But they cared, they were compassionate and they made it happen for me.”
The mother and son charted two paths with different trajectories. But they both ended at the same place, and nearly at the same time.
Alabama State University held commencement ceremonies the weekend of Nov. 20 at the ASU Football Stadium.
Lauren, a member of the fall class, walked across the stage Friday, Nov. 20, to accept her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. Courtney graduated magna cum laude in May, earning his finance degree from ASU’s business school, but the ceremony for the spring class was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Courtney was finally able to step across the stage Sunday, Nov. 22.
“Just the whole weekend was enjoyable and it was amazing to finally get this done for myself and also for my mom,” he said. “Because she’s been talking about wanting to go back and get her degree for the longest. To see it finally come into fruition has just been amazing.”
The ASU Hornets legacy is somewhat of a birthright for Courtney, who said he was always around the school and immersed in its culture growing up. His father, Kim, also graduated from ASU, from its business school, and owns a tuxedo shop across from the ASU campus. Lauren’s mother and aunt are both fellow alumnae.
Beyond the family lineage, Courtney has a school connection that dates back to his formative years. He attended Zelia Stephens Early Childhood Learning Center at Alabama State University, a facility housed at ASU.
Lauren graduated high school in 1984 and started her college career at Auburn University Montgomery that fall.
“I thought that was boring,” she recalled. “I was coming out of high school and I said to myself, ‘I know there’s more to college than this.’ ”
So Lauren transferred to Trenholm State Community College to enroll in trade school. She took stenography, and medical assistant and emergency medical technician courses, earning several associate degrees from the Montgomery technical college. She spent time as an EMT before beginning a 28-year career as a dental assistant.
Still, Lauren longed to complete her undergraduate studies. In 2000, she enrolled in classes at ASU, determined to accomplish that goal. But life intervened. She went through a divorce, which prevented her from taking classes during the day. And, for a time, her dream was deferred.
Her resolve was renewed by her son. Courtney graduated high school in 2016 and immediately went into his freshman year at ASU that summer. He said his mom talked about returning to school from the time he was a child and it poured in him a desire for higher education.
He also encouraged her to make true on her promise.
After graduating, Courtney was hired as a gunnery contract specialist for Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.
He noted the irony that the joyous occasion of his graduation came about because of COVID-19, a serious virus that has taken a devastating global toll in 2020.
“I guess that’s the good part of the whole thing,” he said. “I guess, in a way, for mine to get postponed until now…I don’t think it would’ve been the same effect if I actually walked in May. We would’ve walked separately. It would’ve still been important, but not as much of an exciting weekend.
“I’m very proud of how she never let obstacles get in her way,” he added. “It may have slowed her down, but it never stopped her.”
Lauren enrolled in classes in March and, she said, she was able to cram four semesters of coursework in over the past eight months, primarily learning virtually.
She credited Dr. Parichart Thornton, a professor who introduced her to the interdisciplinary studies curriculum. Thornton created the program for students like Lauren, which allowed her to incorporate all the classes she’d taken at Trenholm. With her associate degrees, Lauren was able to field shadow different jobs to get a firsthand look.
Through it all, Lauren relied on her faith. She said Isaiah 41:10 was a scripture that kept her encouraged. The Bible passage reads: Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
She has continued to radiate with confidence and gratefulness from her recent accomplishment.
“It’s never too late, from praying and trusting in God and asking for guidance,” Lauren said. “It gives you a sense of pride. And it gives you a sense of security that you know there’s still hope. I can still start another whole career and work 10 more years.”
Lauren has spent years working as an administrative secretary, but said she’s looking to begin a new career with her interdisciplinary studies degree. Her dream job would be teaching EMT classes at Trenholm.
“Wherever God leads me is where I’m going,” she said.
She recalled a loved one once telling her she’d never amount to anything, and admitted she internalized the comment. She had a message of empowerment for women.
“Don’t allow any person — no man, no father, no brother, no sister, no boyfriend or anybody else — to tell you what you can and cannot do,” Lauren said. “You’ve got to push through. You have to find the strength within yourself to push through.”