Both studied and commuted to class. At the end of their college careers, they accepted their diplomas together. Both also graduated with associate degrees in medical assisting from Miller-Motte Technical College in Chattanooga Jan. 30, walking across the Tivoli Theatre stage to accept their diplomas in bright blue caps and gowns.
For Brenda Porter, the shiny gold tassels and pomp-and-circumstance meant more than just an end to her classes, homework and exams.
“Walking across the stage meant a goal that was complete,” she said. “I was proud.”
Brenda and Breandra’s classes had them spending a lot of time together as students training to work in their chosen medical fields. Prior to starting college, the two Cleveland natives were already very close.
Going from what was simply a mother-daughter relationship to a situation where they would also be students and peers worked out well for them, said Breandra.
“For me, it wasn’t bad because we have that friendship relationship too,” she said. “And, she’s smart, so that helped out.”
While it proved somewhat challenging at times to be a classmate instead of a mother to Breanda while they were studying at Miller-Motte, Brenda said she learned to let her daughter make her own decisions.
“It was definitely different,” she said. “It was hard in a way because I had to let her be who she was. She was still an adult.”
According to Breandra, differences in study habits and class etiquette did remind the two students that they were from different generations. One habit that irked her mother was younger students’ tendencies to text message and use their laptops to chat on Facebook instead of taking notes in class.
“It was amusing to her to see my generation not as focused in school,” she said.
When it came to studying for exams, Breandra said she often would “just cram the night before,” while her mother often studied for more than a week in advance.
Both women graduated having earned various honors and certificates and GPA’s of at least 3.5 during their two years of college. Their different study and classroom habits did not affect how they performed, said the elder Porter.
While they ended up earning the same degree at the same college, neither of them had originally planned to study medical assisting at Miller-Motte.
Brenda Porter studied at Cleveland State Community College after graduating from Cleveland High School but had to put her studies on hold. When daughter Breandra graduated from the same high school, she had a different course of study in mind. When Breandra was ready to attend college, they both decided to attend Miller-Motte.
One of the reasons Brenda did not finish at Cleveland State was her family. She is the husband of Jonathan Porter, who owns a construction company, works at Bowater and is president of the 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. organization. Brenda is also the mother of five children ranging from 9 to 25 years of age.
The mother and daughter pair lived under the same roof in Cleveland with the family while going to college, and that proved difficult when it came to finding the time and quiet space to study, said Brenda Porter.
“It was hard,” she said. “A lot of my studying was done after my 9-year-old son went to bed. I also did a lot of early morning studying.”
Studying with her mother at home was not something she did very often because her mother was “a magnet” for her siblings’ interruptions, said Breandra Porter.
Commuting to Chattanooga for classes each day allowed the duo extra study time. On mornings of tests, Brenda would often drive while Breandra quizzed her on the test’s material.
Breandra was a “tough teacher” and would “scream” the answers at her, said her mom.
“She would be able to see something [on a test] and remember, ‘Oh yeah, she screamed that,’” Breandra said with a laugh.
Before their graduation ceremony, both women had separate pinning ceremonies with their respective classes after the completion of their programs, which allowed them to each sit in the audience to see each other officially finish the program.
When graduation day came, though they were both excited, Brenda and Breandra had slightly different feelings about the experience.
“I was nervous,” Breandra Porter said. “My heart was pounding so fast.”
Brenda Porter’s experience at the ceremony was a really happy one, she said.
“Having a husband and five kids at home, I was proud,” she said. “You can put it on hold and start a family and go back if you put God first.”
While they received the same degree, Brenda and Breandra have very different goals for their lives post-diploma. Brenda has gotten a job working at the Kennedy Clinic, and Breandra hopes to eventually get a job working with an OB-GYN.
“We may have the same job title, but our jobs are completely different,” Breandra said.
Regardless of which job positions they might hold in the future, Brenda and Breandra Porter said their college experiences taught them both the value of determination.
“If you have a dream and a goal, you can succeed,” Breandra said.
Her mother agreed, adding that it is important to take responsibility for what you want to do.
“Don’t give excuses why you can’t do things,” she said. “If it’s God’s will, and as long as you do your best at it, you will succeed.”