05/25/10 — Dad, daughter share ECU graduation day

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Dad, daughter share ECU graduation day

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 25, 2010 1:46 PM

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Phaedra Johnson, left, and her father, Larry Johnson, recently graduated together from East Carolina University -- she with a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising, he with a master's degree in adult education and a certificate in community college instruction.

After a career in the Air Force and a newfound role working with others pursuing advanced degrees, Larry Johnson decided to return to school for his master's degree.

What he didn't anticipate was that his educational path would intersect with his daughter's and they would graduate together from East Carolina University.

Earlier this month, Johnson, who will be 50 this year, proudly marched in the same ceremony as Phaedra Johnson, who received her bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising.

It was a momentous day, he says now.

"To be on the football field, with me completing my degree and her completing hers, it was really special," he said. "I had planned not to march, but graduating together changed that. We had a chance to really talk (that day). I'm very proud and really honored to share that moment with her."

Phaedra, who graduated from Eastern Wayne High School in 2006, lived in an apartment near the Greenville campus. Her dad commuted.

But they crossed paths often, she said.

"A lot of times, if he were ever to come to campus, we would hang out together or do lunch," she said. "If he needed me to pick up something, I would. I would be his tour guide, show him where things were."

And even though they were in different programs, they exchanged information just like any other classmates would -- like which professors were particularly hard and which classes were popular among students.

For the 21-year-old, college was a step toward her dream -- as a buyer, stylist or merchandiser.

For her dad, it was about career advancement.

Since retiring from the Air Force in 2004, he taught middle school for three years before becoming a director in continuing education at Wayne Community College three years ago.

Having his master's degree, he said, "equips me to be even more effective as an adult education administrator."

It will also help him as he works with others pursuing their degrees.

Already, Johnson says, he has developed an arsenal of messages he will pass along to those under his tutelage at WCC.

He knows just what advice he will give -- "Make the sacrifices, because I did. I worked and went to school at the same time. You can achieve your goals. It's possible to do things while you're working, to prepare you for other opportunities and future endeavors."

And while this father/daughter team might be very proud of their individual accomplishments, they say they will never forget one of the best aspects -- that they got to share their graduation day.

"We're very proud of that moment," Johnson said.

"I think he really enjoyed the fact that we both were graduating together in the same ceremony," Phaedra said. "I enjoyed it. I thought it was an honor.

"I have a lot of respect for him. In a way, it made me look good -- I have something to work toward, he's a great example."