They walked proudly together across the stage to the applause of their families and classmates. An achievement that began at two opposite ends of the age spectrum, the term ‘honors’ holds more meaning for Maggie Tiede and Julie Jo Larson than just a word in the title of their degree.
“To be among the first (to complete a degree in Honors Associate in Arts) at CLC (Central Lakes College) is really something special,” said 17-year-old Tiede who earned a 4.0 and became one of the first CLC graduates ever to earn an Honors Associate in Arts degree during the CLC graduation Thursday night. “I worked so hard for this and so did Julie Jo (Larson) and I overcame a lot of ups and downs and some struggles, but to get it down to this (graduation) day is just awesome.”
For Tiede the struggle was entering college so young. Beginning two years ago at the age 15, she is the only student to have taken every honors college course at CLC. Add in to a full courseload growing up more than 60 miles from her hometown in Remer and Tiede said the college experience was one she won’t soon forget.
“It’s been unbelievable and so weird,” said Tiede, who was homeschooled before entering CLC and added that living with family friends in Brainerd got her out of a lot of chores on the family farm. “I’ve been growing up while I am doing this, I don’t know how to put it all in words.
“Coming in to this honors program gave me a built in group of friends and a built in group of people looking out for me like I am their little sister, which made it an easy transition (to go from homeschooling to college).
“It’s been two years of my life that I have changed the most than in the previous 15 years when I first came here, but I wouldn’t change a bit of it.”
And while Tiede worked to overcome “being the little sister,” Larson strived to become a student all over again at 47 years old.
“It’s been more than 20 years since I was in school,” said Larson, who added she and Tiede have been in the same class since they both began their collegiate adventure two years ago. “And being a non-traditional student is one of the harder things to do...but after the first few initial classes we all became students together and worked towards this goal.”
Larson graduated New Ulm High School in 1982 before moving on to attend Mankato Tech with a two-year certificate in sales and marketing. But after graduation her “motherly duties” kicked in, focusing on her family and putting her plans for a bachelor’s degree to the wayside.
It wasn’t until a change in family dynamics arose that the possibility of becoming a student once again was a reality for Larson.
“We had been living in Moose Lake, where I was working for 14 years as a para-professional and teaching assistant in special education when my husband’s job moved to the (Twin) Cities,” said Larson, who admitted learning new technology — including scientific calculators — were the biggest challenges she faced. “That’s when I said, I think I am going back to being a student full-time. I brought all my papers and asked, ‘what do I need to do to get my bachelor’s degree?’ and went from there.
“I had 12 credits that unfortunately didn’t transfer from Mankato State (University) so I had to start over, but the people here have made that transition so wonderful.”
A mother of three — Alexander, 28, Sorina, 20, and Morgan, 15, — Larson said making her experience even more unusual was doing it during the same time two of her children, Alexander and Sorina, were in college, too.
“It’s kind of fun, we call each other and ask how finals went,” said Larson, who’s son Alexander recently graduated from North Dakota State University and daughter Sorina is attending University of Minnesota-Duluth. “It’s (having three family members in college at the same time) definitely something I never expected to see happen in our family, but I am so proud of them.”
And Larson adds she’s equally proud of Tiede and her accomplishments. Accomplishments that at 17- and 47-years-old — 30 years apart — they did together.
Something both agreed has been a “true honor” to do.