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‘Full Circle Moments’: Florida Woman Graduates from the Same School Where Her Mom Brought Her to Class As a Baby

Twenty years after pushing through college at Florida State University and, as a young mother, finding support from a college professor, Summer Bell has witnessed that baby follow in her footsteps.

Her daughter, Alivia Thompson, has graduated from the same institution.

Bell, who had the baby days before finals, has seen even more change on her end. She now serves on her alma mater’s College of Business Board of Governors.

In 2001, Bell, who received a bachelor’s degree in marketing, found herself without stable babysitting and facing many other challenges.

Mother and Daughter graduate 20 years apart from Florida State University
Twenty years ago, Summer Bell had to carry her baby to classes at Florida State University. Her daughter, Alivia Thompson, has now graduated from the same school. (Photo: Facebook/Summer Bell)

A Naples, Florida native, Bell currently is the director of shopper marketing for Coca-Cola. A junior in school in 2001, Bell had just given birth to Thompson.

The 42-year-old recalls once sitting in her e-commerce class, taught by the then-new professor Michael Hartline, with the new baby in tow. She took the infant to class with her on one day in particular because her child-care arrangements had fallen through. She was petrified the baby would disrupt her classmates’ learning by crying.

“I had her in her car seat, I got there early, and I sat in the very back corner of the class so that nobody would notice me. I was just rocking her car seat the whole time with my foot,” Bell told the Tallahassee Democrat.

According to Bell, Thompson started to whimper and with that as a cue, she tried to slip out of class. Her professor, who had three babies in his home (then 5, 4 and 2), stepped in.

She said, “I was so embarrassed because Florida State is just not the type of school that you usually have a baby in, but while I started to gather all my things and leave, Hartline was like, ‘No, no, no; it’s okay. Give her here.’ ”

“He taught the rest of the class walking around and bouncing her while he finished so that I can stay in class and take notes,” Bell recalled.

“At the time, my daughters were 5, 4 and 2 years old, so I had experience in calming babies by holding them and walking around,” Hartline said of that day. “I honestly didn’t think much about it at the time. I understood what Summer was going through and wanted to help.”

In addition to the teacher helping out, a couple of nursing students on campus stepped up to provide care for the young mother as she pursued her degree. These students, all studying to one day become NICU nurses or doctors, synchronized their schedules to babysit Thompson while her mom was in class.

With the support of others, she was able to obtain her marketing degree in three years.

“It really is probably one of my greatest accomplishments because it was the hardest and scariest time of my life — not knowing what was going to happen,” Bell said. “Now, knowing everything is okay makes it so much better and exciting.”

Thompson, 22, who watched her mother from birth strive for success, is also a graduate of the same school, finishing in the same three years, and studying under the same teacher who rocked her as a baby and is now dean of FSU College of Business.

Alivia Thompson graduates
Alivia Thompson graduated from Florida State University in December 2022. (Photo: Facebook/Alivia Thompson)

“Going through college, I thought about how my mom did it with a whole child, and it’s inspiring how she had to grow up and figure things out so much quicker,” said Thompson. “I’ve always had my mom in my corner, pushing me to know that if she did it, I can do it too.”

Her mom remains in her corner as a proud cheerleader. At her graduation from FSU, Bell recalled crying the whole time while sitting in the audience with her mother.

Thompson is now enrolled in a graduate program at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. While working on her MBA, she is a social media manager for Deka Lash.

She has been at Coca-Cola for over a decade, working on notable products like Gold Peak tea, where as the commercial group director for the category, she was instrumental in increasing sales to double-digit growth in 2015, and she spearheaded the company’s LINC program and successfully launched “Lean in Circles” as support groups for women working at the brand.

Hartline, in his new capacity, marveled at how this once young mother currently is a member of the College of Business Board of Governors and just a few years ago was the master’s hooding speaker for the college.

He said, “Having a former student serving on our board is pretty special … Full circle moments like that and Alivia’s graduation make my job so incredibly rewarding,” he said.

Bell sums up her experience this way, “Many people aren’t able to have a baby, go to school full time and finish, so because of that, I wanted to try to make it happen for me and also for my daughter to show her exactly how this whole thing can work.”

She added, “You can still be successful in doing something that you’re proud of, even when you’re challenged.”

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