Most of the graduate students in Angelo State University’s College of Education are working professionals, juggling family, life and career expectations.
Kandis Dugat Eagleton, a married mother of a 2-year-old, was no different, working as a transition specialist helping special needs students of the Humble Independent School District bridge the gap between high school and college through a partnership with the Kingwood campus of Lone Star College. Regardless, her desire to develop her career in education led her to pursue an online Master of Education in guidance and counseling degree through ASU.
“I want to leave lasting, positive impressions on my students,” Eagleton said. “I want to help each one of them discover their own personal genius and use it to live a meaningful, productive life.”
Eagleton’s pursuit of education became far more challenging this past November when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Still, even as she underwent 20 rounds of chemotherapy, she completed the requirements for her degree. However, with surgery scheduled for just days before her graduation, Eagleton would not be able to attend the May 16 commencement ceremonies at ASU.
So her friend and colleague, Dr. Claudine Simpson, an adjunct professor at LSC-Kingwood, started planning a surprise “mock” graduation ceremony at the Houston-area campus. She emailed ASU President Brian J. May, asking if the university would be willing to send a representative.
May’s immediate reply to Simpson: “We’ll make it a real graduation.”
He and his friend and colleague, Dr. Donald Topliff, ASU’s provost, made the 386-mile trip in May’s pickup.
Dressed in full commencement regalia, May and Topliff took to the stage at LSC-Kingwood on May 5. As a pianist played the traditional processional music and a standing-room-only crowd of family, friends and students looked on, Eagleton’s colleagues dressed her in a graduation gown and carefully positioned a cap over the scarf covering her head.
“I was completely surprised,” Eagleton said. “It was the greatest feeling to walk into a room full of people cheering for me! I felt so much love; it’s almost indescribable. I’m still moved to tears just thinking about it. The ceremony and everyone involved was just beautiful. It is something I will never forget as long as I live.”
May also invited one of the newest members of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents, Ronnie Hammonds of Houston, who related his own and his mother’s battles with cancer.
“We’re here not just to celebrate what you have accomplished but what you’re going to accomplish,” Hammonds told Eagleton. “You are now one of us and we are one of you.”
“If you use the same determination that you did to pass all the tests and do all the things you had to do to earn this degree, you’ll beat this thing in nothing down,” he added. “We have every confidence in the world in you.”
May and Topliff had not previously held a special graduation but were strongly moved to do this one.
“We hope that not only did it please her and her family, we hope that it gave her some strength,” May said. “We wanted to give her encouragement with her health struggle.”
For Topliff, opportunities to do something special for someone don’t come along every day.
“Here’s a lady who’s struggling,” he said. “She’s getting her online degree while working full time. She is working with special needs kids. She wants to come to graduation, but she medically just can’t. How could you not say, ‘We have to go do this’?”
Eagleton, who has since come through her surgery with a positive prognosis, is planning a fall trip with Simpson to ASU to visit her newly extended “family.”
“I am amazed by the support that Angelo State University has shown me and my family,” she said. “It is with great joy that I have now become an alumna of such a prestigious university.”