Two Chattanooga women have put a silver lining in one of the cloudiest years in the history of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
UTC's fall 2020 commencement — held across four days last month on the university's Chamberlain Field under strict COVID-19 social distancing guidelines — featured two Ormond-family women who are more than 50 years apart in age but were bound together by a shared aspiration.
Pat Ormond, who will turn 75 years old later this month, and her granddaughter Melody Ormond, 22, both received bachelor's degrees at the outdoor commencement on Nov. 20. Pat's degree is in anthropology, Melody's is in psychology.
Take that, COVID-19.
It was the culmination of a plan — you might even say a pact — years in the making.
Melody convinced her ''Nana'' to return to college a few years ago after she rejected Melody's suggestion that she join a knitting club. Um, no.
Next, Melody planted an image that was difficult for her grandmother to resist: Imagine graduating from college together on the same day.
"I've always loved learning, so I thought about it a little bit," Pat recalled.
At first she was dubious. College is expensive, she thought, "and I'm on a fixed income."
But generous tuition breaks for seniors (she paid $70 per semester plus books, fees and parking), along with her granddaughter's persistence eventually won her over.
The two would sometimes cross paths at UTC, and Melody never missed an opportunity to shout out greetings to her Nana. But they were on different academic tracks and never shared a class.
"Nana would wake up at 6 or 7 a.m. for her nice parking place [on campus], and I would wake up an hour before class and fight tooth and nail for a place to park," Melody said.
Pat actually finished her classes in the spring but waited until November to get her diploma so the two could graduate together. During the ceremony, which was streamed online, Melody said her phone blew up with almost 100 texts from well-wishers — family and friends were not allowed to attend the ceremony because of the pandemic.
So, 42 years after taking her first college class in Georgia in 1978, Pat Ormond has her degree. She picked anthropology as a major because of her interest in history and genealogy, she said.
"It's almost unbelievable," she said in a recent interview. "I graduated high school in 1963."
Pat said that to her surprise — and delight — younger UTC students seemed to enjoy her presence in class. They even helped her with field work when her knees gave out.
For one of her classes on cultural anthropology, Pat studied students' shoes as they walked across the UTC campus.
"You'd be surprised how many students wear flip flops and scuffs [slides]," she said, disapprovingly. "They were walking all the way across campus carrying backpacks and not wearing proper footwear."
Like a lot of people, Pat started college as a young adult but got sidetracked by career and family responsibilities. She took some early computer courses in vocational school in the 1960s and applied that learning — back in the old punch-card computing days — to some of her jobs.
As her work became focused on accounting, she took some relevant business classes in the 1970s and 1980s but never seemed to have the money or time to stack enough courses to get on track for a degree.
"For most of the time, I was a single parent with a girl and a boy," she said. "It was my duty as a parent to make sure they had the best future they could have. There was not much money left for me."
For her part, Melody said she always envisioned going to college, so her grandmother's graduation was a way to boost her energy for what was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
To mark the ceremony, Melody decorated the tops of their mortar boards with cut-out letters and glitter she got at a local hobby shop.
Melody's hat read: "My cats got me to graduation."
Pat's read: "After 42 years, I'm at graduation."
Pat says she is going back to UTC to get a history degree. Melody is "taking a break" before possibly going to graduate school to become a counselor.
A love of learning, it seems, runs deep in the Ormond DNA.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.