Mother and Son Push Each Other to Complete Degrees

Most graduates who earn their degrees through the University of Arkansas System eVersity cite some person in their lives cheering them on to graduation. Mother-son tandem Tracy and Gunner Kendrick are no exception.

But what does set these two apart is they do more than encourage one another to pass – their deep-seated competitive streak also makes them want to be the best in every class they take. Even if that means beating the other.

“She’s in health care management and I’m in business management, so every now and then we have the same classes,” Gunner said. “It’s kind of fun to see who can do better on this blog post or see who can do better on that paper. It helps that we both have a competitive spirit about it. It makes it easier.”

Tracy says her son does have the edge when it comes to blogging.

“I will say, (Gunner) is the ‘blog master,’ in my opinion,” she said. “We’ve had a couple classes together and I would read his blog after it was posted to the discussion board and I would say, ‘Dang it! There’s no way I can top that.’ I like to write as well, but the papers come a little bit easier to me if it’s a three- to seven-page paper. He does more with those short assignments such as a blog and I do better, probably, on the research papers.”

Mother and son share a special bond when it comes to work and education. Both are employed at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, also a part of the UA System, she as conference services manager and he as assistant waste water treatment plant operator and recycling coordinator. And both were talented high school students who got derailed in their pursuit of a degree by what at the time felt like more practical considerations.

“I was the kid in high school who was always smart, but my parents didn’t really talk to me about college,” Tracy said. “They thought I was capable, so right out of beauty school I went to cosmetology school and quickly realized that I was not a magician. I did well and was a great student, but when I had to start doing it for a living I thought, this can’t be the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to go back to school. My passion was health care. I wanted to be a nurse even at that time.”

Work and family demands – which included the family’s cattle operation in addition to her day job – further delayed her chasing her dream. Finally, she made herself a promise.

“I told myself when my youngest kid graduates high school, which is Gunner, I would go back to school and get my degree,” she said. “When he graduated high school in 2016, I immediately enrolled in eVersity.” Gunner, by contrast, was always pushed to go to college which he initially did at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton (UACCM). But when his superiors offered him his current job, he was at a crossroads.

“I had to make the choice of do I want to go ahead finish my degree or start my career and leave school behind,” he said. “I told Mom, ‘I have this amazing opportunity to go ahead and start my career now.’ I thought about quitting college in general.”

Gunner saw how Tracy was completing her studies through eVersity and immediately recognized the program as the answer to his quandary. He enrolled in 2018. A little more than a year later, Tracy and Gunner walked the graduation stage together to receive their associate degrees.

“I was really just hoping I could hold it together,” Tracy said of that moment. “When I was considering whether to walk or not, my daughter, who is still in school, said, ‘Mom, I don’t care if you get just a certificate printed in Excel or Word, you have to walk. Every accomplishment you get through school, you need to be recognized for that.’”

While Tracy finished her bachelor’s degree at the end of the March session, Gunner continues to work toward his and will finish soon. Both are very proud of the other, but the competitive streak is never very far below the surface, especially for Tracy.

“Getting my bachelor’s degree feels wonderful and a master’s degree is not out of the question for me, either. I’m researching that now,” she said. “I’m quite tenacious and very driven. Anyone you talk to will say, ‘If Tracy puts her mind to something, she’s going to do it.’”