May 25, 2019  

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Mother and Daughter to Receive Doctorates at May 13 Commencement

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Alli Tharp, right, and her mother Colleen Mestayer will graduate from The University of Southern Mississippi with their doctorates May 13.

For most parents, seeing their child graduate college and earn their doctorate is a milestone to be proud of, but it is more of a spectator sport. However, to be a part of that momentous occasion is an entirely different experience, and for Alli Tharp and her mother, Colleen Mestayer, a reality.

Tharp and Mestayer will both receive their doctoral degrees May 13 at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg commencement as a rare mother/daughter accomplishment.
 
In 2012, Tharp was two years into her graduate program in English literature when her mother began to entertain thoughts of returning to school to pursue her doctorate. After 15 years in the public relations profession and 12 years of teaching English Language Arts at the middle and high school level, Mestayer decided to take the final step in her education by pursuing her doctorate in communication studies.

“I had always dreamed of getting my Ph.D. and it seemed that the time was finally right for me to do just that,” said Mestayer.
 
Mestayer decided that she would sell her house in their hometown of Lafayette, La. and make the move to Hattiesburg. After securing a position as a graduate assistant in the Department of Communications Studies, mother and daughter took their relationship to the next level by becoming college roommates.

“I think we surprised ourselves and everyone else with how well we got along,” said Tharp. “We’ve had an awesome time living together.”
 
Mestayer said that the two became more like friends than mother or daughter over the three years they lived together. She said it was wonderful to have someone who truly understands what earning a Ph.D. is like. “I finally had someone close to me who could understand both the intense trials of graduate school and those small moments of success,” said Tharp.
 
Though the duo do not cross paths on campus because of their different programs, they often confer with the other on lessons and work outside of campus. Mestayer defended her dissertation in late February, while Tharp defended hers in early March. Both women are entering the job market at the same time, which Mestayer calls “very daunting.” They both plan to become assistant professors with the intention of continuing their research while teaching.

“We both love teaching and often share ideas for different activities and lessons,” said Mestayer. “It is a wonderful feeling to know that we have both accomplished something that really is rare – a great friendship and top academic achievement,” Mestayer said.

The future may hold elements of the unknown, but for both it has been an adventure they will not likely forget. “This has really been a bonding experience for us,” said Tharp. “It’ll be hard when we move our separate ways for jobs, but I’m happy to say that this experience has made us friends more than anything else.”