Mother-son duo take turns earning Rollins degrees

Holly Tanyhill and her son Aaron crossed the graduation stage at Rollins on Mother’s Day weekend with bachelor’s degrees in hand.

Holly Tanyhill and her son Aaron crossed the graduation stage at Rollins on Mother’s Day weekend with bachelor’s degrees in hand.

Allison Olcsvay

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Holly Tanyhill watched as one-by-one her children grew up and went off to college, fulfilling a dream both she and her husband had for their children, but one they themselves had not yet achieved.

It was as her two youngest children, twins Eric and Aaron, were preparing to go to Rollins that Holly began wondering what the future held for her now that the nest was about to be empty.

“As I watched them all head off to college, there was pride, but also a little envy at the new adventures before them and I thought to myself, ‘What do I do now?’”

For Holly, the next step was right before her eyes. Working as an admissions specialist at Kaplan University at the time, she was constantly encouraging other people to follow their higher-education dreams.

“I did not even know going back to school was an option,” Holly said. “I thought that time had passed for me, but as I helped others enroll in school I realized I had hopes and dreams too, and it was time to follow them.”

She enrolled at Valencia College, earning her associate degree, and then enrolled at Rollins, just like her children before her.

“I knew it was a good school, and with three of my children having graduated and two enrolled there, it was a natural fit,” she said.

On Mother’s Day weekend Holly and her son Aaron took turns watching each other graduate, first Holly on Saturday with a bachelor’s in communications, then Aaron on Sunday with a bachelor’s in critical media and cultural studies.

“I kept having to tell myself, ‘This is me doing this; this is me sitting here. This is not the kids this time,’” Holly said.

Aaron watched from the stands, just as proud of his mom as he was of himself.

“It was really good to see all of her hard work come to fruition,” he said.

For Holly, watching her son graduate took on new meaning after she had so recently crossed the stage herself.

“It was more exciting for me because now I knew how it felt,” she said. “Before I was just a bystander, now we were all a part of the same club you might say.”

Holly’s husband was disappointed to miss the big day due to hospitalization, but he did get to watch a live stream of the event online – cheering so loud that nurses thought someone was watching a football game.

If all goes as planned, he’ll have another chance to catch the pair cross the stage, as both Holly and Aaron have plans to attend law school after Rollins.

“I want to be an advocate for voiceless people in our community,” Holly said.

She helped her own family keep its voice even while facing the hurdle of homelessness by always encouraging her kids toward higher education.

“I told the kids, ‘If you guys want to get out of this poverty, you are going to have to go to school and do well.’”

Today, the family of seven boasts five Rollins graduates, two of whom have gone on to earn advanced degrees. Next semester Holly’s other son Eric is due to graduate Rollins, adding another Tar to the roster. After her husband finishes at Seminole State, he also plans to attend Rollins, becoming the latest to join the family tradition.

“We’ve been homeless, been to work with no lunch and faced many struggles, but now we’re looking forward to life,” Holly said.

“I’m so ready for that upward climb. I keep waiting for the downturn, but I know the down isn’t coming this time.”

Holly is keeping her eyes on sky, instilling the importance on education on the next generation. Plans are already in the works for 1-year-old granddaughter Sophia to join the Rollins family.

“She’s already got her Rollins onesie,” Holly joked.