Mother-daughter duo graduate college together

"I'm extremely proud of her," Tanisha Wiggins said of her mom.

Mother-daughter duo graduate college together
Courtesy of Onondaga Community College
December 20, 2023, 4:25 PM

A New York mother and daughter couldn't be prouder of one another after the duo graduated together this December from Onondaga Community College in Syracuse.

Barbara Wiggins, 58, and her daughter Tanisha Wiggins, 36, walked side by side together at their commencement ceremony as they both received their associate of science degrees in human services.

"I'm extremely proud of her. I really look up to her," Tanisha Wiggins told "Good Morning America."

Mother-daughter duo Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins both attended Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y.
Courtesy of Onondaga Community College

"When I started school and [my mom] was going to school at the same time, that was really a proud moment for me," the younger Wiggins continued. "Because I didn't think she was gonna go to school right after she got her GED. She was like, 'I'm going to college!' I'm like, 'Really?' She's like, 'Yeah, I could do it!'"

Barbara Wiggins, who has worked as a doula, told "GMA" she was inspired to go back to school after seeing others around her succeed in higher education.

"It was about just helping people and getting more educated," Wiggins, a mother of five and grandmother of 12, explained.

"I didn't finish high school so I had to go back to school to get my GED [diploma]. And I loved it," the elder Wiggins said.

Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins both graduated this December with associate in science degrees in human services.
Courtesy of Onondaga Community College

Barbara Wiggins enrolled at OCC in 2021, and although she was hesitant at first, being a nontraditional student, she never gave up on her goal of graduating.

"There was a kid in my class, 18 years old," Barbara Wiggins recalled. "I said, 'I have a grandson that's 18 years old.' I said, 'I'm old enough to be your grandmother.' And we all just started laughing."

Throughout her journey, Barbara Wiggins said her teachers and her family were some of her biggest cheerleaders and supporters.

Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins credit their professors at Onondaga Community College for helping them achieve their academic goals while balancing work and family too.
Courtesy of Onondaga Community College

"At the beginning, my first semester, I had a professor named Tina May. She had everyone in the class get into groups every day, and we got to know each other asking each other questions, pretending to be a counselor. It was nice. It was wonderful. And that's how I got to know everyone in my class," she said. "So, I didn't feel so out of place then, because she made it seem so easy."

Meanwhile, Tanisha Wiggins also decided to return to school after first starting at OCC back when she was 18.

"I was not ready at all. I was living in a [transitional] living program. I was diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis at a young age -- depression," Tanisha Wiggins explained. "I was in and out of the hospital, so that prevented me from finishing school because, like, every other month, I was in the hospital for the depression that I was experiencing."

Later, Tanisha Wiggins said she started on medication and began working, and going back to school was pushed to the side until she had her children, who are now 2 and 1.

Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins celebrated their joint graduation with their family and friends.
Onondaga Community College

"I decided to go back after I had kids, because I was like, I need to make a better future for them so that they can have a good role model to look up to," the mom of two said.

In addition to her family and professors, Tanisha Wiggins also credits the community college's "Return to Complete" program and the school's on-site day care for helping her complete her OCC coursework.

"It was a lot for me but I did it with my mom's support and the day care support. I was able to make it happen," Tanisha Wiggins said. "I'm so grateful they have that day care at that school because I don't know what I would have done without them."

Despite the ups and downs, Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins hope others can take inspiration from their journeys.

"I didn't give up because, you know, although my children have grown, I had grandchildren and I don't want them to give up," Barbara Wiggins said. "I want them to know that if I could do this, you can do this."

"[My mom] proved everyone wrong that thought she wouldn't be able to do it," Tanisha Wiggins added. "She really got through it at the age she is now with tutoring and everything, and she went every single day. She did not stop. It didn't matter what the weather was, she went. And I'm really proud of her."

For older prospective students like her, Barbara Wiggins also encouraged them to stick to their education goals.

"Don't think about it, just do it," she said. "Because if you keep thinking about it, you will keep saying, 'I can't do this. I can't do this.' But you can. [There will be] some struggles, but you will get over it. And once you start and get to know the professors and get to know all the other students, you're gonna be glad you came. It's excellent."