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‘Help Each Other Keep Up’: Black Excellence on Display for Mississippi Family Engaged In Friendly Competition to Graduate Together with Master’s Degrees

A Black Mississippi family is marking a graduation to remember: with a father, son and daughter all earning master’s degrees in education from Mississippi State University on May 12.

“The love and passion for it, you’ve got to have the love and passion,” said Commondre Cole, a Mississippi State University graduate.

Love and a passion for education is part of the bond shared by the Gully-Cole family residing in Meridian, Mississippi. Commondre Cole, 45, his son, Jacoby Cole, 25, and daughter Iesha Gully, 27, were all awarded master’s degrees at Mississippi State’s 2022 commencement on May 12.

“I used to work manufacturing jobs and all of that and she say you can always be off in the summertime if you were an educator,” Commondre Cole said of his wife’s persuasion efforts to get into the education field.

Commondre Cole credits his wife, Jessica Gully-Cole, who has spent her career as an educator, as the deciding factor in his decision to go back to school to earn his master’s degree. She also convinced their children to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

Jacoby Cole works as a P.E. teacher for an elementary school in Meridian, Mississippi.

“I just wanted to coach, teach kids how to play baseball and things like that. Mom said you should just go into teaching because in order to be a coach you need to be a teacher also, so she was like ‘You might as well go ahead and get your education,’ ” Jacoby Cole said of his mom’s efforts to get him into becoming a teacher.

Iesha Gully’s path into the classroom had twists and turns, which include a stint studying criminal justice and becoming a waitress and a truck driver before her mom’s years of convincing finally broke through and she became an educator, now teaching special needs children in second grade in Meridian.

“The pay from being a truck driver to being a school teacher, was like, ‘I’m going to have to like this to keep going’ and then when I jumped into it, I realized I loved doing it,” Gully said.

The family says they took some of the same classes while earning their degrees.

“Some classes we were taking together and stuff like that and we can help each other keep up and we can tell each other such and such is due tomorrow at 11,” Commondre Cole said about taking classes with his children.

“I know me and my dad were in a lot of groups together. We did a lot of group work on Zoom,” said Jacoby Cole.

“It was almost like a competition, trying to have the highest GPA, have the highest grade on tests and assignments and the teachers would always point that out,” Gully said.

Although Gully was a year ahead of her dad and brother, she says she slowed down her coursework to graduate with her family. “My mom was like ‘Are you going to graduate in the Spring of 2021 or are you going to wait on your brother and your dad?” Iesha Gully said.

Commondre Cole has 11 years of teaching experience under his belt working as a middle school P.E. teacher, except now he has added credentials with a master’s degree in education attached to his name.

Jacoby Cole has been teaching for two years and says some of the greatest joys from teaching come from the impact he’s able to make on his students.

“They always want to come to P.E., being another father figure for those that don’t have them and being someone there for them,” Jacoby Cole said.

The graduates say they are glad their academic success adds to a string of inspiring stories of Black graduates across the country this graduation season, and their advice to other Black families considering gong back to school is to never give up.

“I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, you know just to get my master’s and keep working, and just to show you can overcome a lot of things. I think that’s the important thing here,” Gully said.

“No matter your age, just keep striving and keep going, whatever you set your heart to, just do it,” Commondre Cole said.

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