Mother receives degree 28 years later as daughter is set to graduate high school

Grambling State University Computer Information Systems major Allison Hamilton of Monroe says she is inspired by so many things. Whether it’s the four children she has raised or is raising, or the strength and courage she credits to God as her youngest son Cayman endures a lifelong fight against health issues since being born prematurely 13 years ago. 

Hamilton is also inspired by the instructors and advisers she’s had at GSU — particularly naming associate professor Dr. Gary Poe and Tamika Cherry, an instructor — while working for years in non-traditional fashion to earn her undergraduate degree, which she will receive during Grambling’s commencement exercises to be held on Thursday. 

But most of all, Hamilton is an inspiration to the staff and her fellow students at GSU who watched her overcome obstacles again and again while working to earn her degree. 

Hamilton began work on her degree in 1994, but life had more in store for her as she had three children and raised them as a single mother. 

As she pursued it off and on for years, Hamilton was presented with one of her biggest challenges in 2008 when Cayman was born with chronic kidney disease. 

But Hamilton was determined to never give up and returned to taking classes at GSU whenever she could work toward her goal of earning a Grambling State University degree. 

In July of 2021 Hamilton returned to GSU once again to continue working on her degree, and sure enough, life soon placed another obstacle on her path toward graduation when, on July 29, Cayman had both kidneys removed along while also undergoing a parathyroidectomy. 

“That was supposed to be an eight-hour surgery, but it ended up taking 10 and a half hours,” Hamilton said. “I had about a week left in summer school, and Dr. Poe had to give me an ‘I’ (incomplete) as a grade because I couldn’t complete all of the course work with so much going on and having to be in the hospital with Cayman.” 

Hamilton once again returned to classes for GSU’s fall semester, taking classes under Cherry and Poe, but soon found herself facing one more obstacle. 

“I’m fighting through that and getting started back working on my degree and Cayman made the list for a kidney transplant,” Hamilton said. “Then on Sept. 21 we got the call that they had a donor kidney, so we took off for New Orleans. As soon as we got off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway entering New Orleans, I got a call saying the match was no good. It was mortifying. But they had found out that the kidney had an infection and Cayman would have had to get an infusion every month for the rest of his life if he would have received that kidney.” 

So mother and son returned to north Louisiana and Hamilton resumed classes at GSU only to receive a call on Oct. 23 that another donor kidney had been found. 

“It was a Saturday,” Hamilton said. “Because of what happened previously we stayed quiet about it and took off for New Orleans. We didn’t tell anyone because what happened the first time was traumatizing. We made it to New Orleans and had to wait on a six-hour test. So that’s more waiting. We got the results back around 10:15 that morning and they made the first incision 30 minutes later at 10:45.” 
Cayman’s post-operation recovery time kept Hamilton in New Orleans until Nov. 2. 

“The whole time I was trying to find spots in the hospital that I could connect online and take my classes,” Hamilton said. “I have to say that the level of understanding Tamika Cherry and Gary Poe had about my son and the situation I was in was remarkable. They were very patient with me. I ended up the fall semester with an A in Ms. Cherry’s class. I did have to take an I in my programming class because I couldn’t complete my assignment.” 

“Then this spring I took database over and internet programming, still having to go back and forth with Cayman to New Orleans. It was a hard semester. But I had Dr. Poe for both classes and he was so understanding.” 

Hamilton said it was the GramFam attitude that helped her persevere through the obstacles she faced. 

“You have to have a village,” Hamilton said. “The way my teachers supported me, and the compassion they showed for me and my family was incredible. Taking care of my son while going to school and finishing my degree wasn’t easy and I couldn’t have done it without the support I received by so many people at GSU.” 

Her own family also pulled together to help make this such a big week for Hamilton. Oldest daughter Kellie, 23, took Cayman to a post-transplant checkup earlier this week while daughter Logan, 18, will be graduating from Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana, only hours after her mother officially graduates from GSU. Hamilton also has a 19-year-old son named Tyler. 

“I did not know at first the struggles she was facing,” Poe said about Hamilton. “All I saw was a student who was continually behind in her work but the work she completed was top drawer work. When I initially asked her why she would only state she had some challenges she was working through. What she did not tell me were the challenges where her son was dying due to kidney disease. Finally, when the boy got critical she opened up and disclosed his condition and its seriousness. She was encouraged to speak with every professor she had and disclose the issue. She was told most Grambling professors were great individuals who would help her which I think she found was true.” 

Poe also shares Hamilton’s excitement over the years of her hard work finally paying off. 

“Throughout my classes, she worked hard and completed her work,” Poe said. “She worked with her group mates and accomplished all she needed to do. Along the way, she blessed all of us with her presence and sweet spirit. She has now received her blessing. Her son received a kidney transplant and is improving daily. She has completed her degree in CIS. She is special. I feel I have received a blessing just by getting to know her.” 


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