Mother, daughter graduate
It was a double graduation celebration this spring for a Boothbay mother and daughter. In May, Jessica Stover received her accounting associate’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University. A month later, it was daughter Denise’s turn. She received her Boothbay Region High School diploma.
The past four years have seen both mother and daughter matriculating. Jessica spent the four years pulling double duty as a full-time employee and part-time student taking courses online.
Denise Stover took an even more unconventional road to her diploma. She spent her first three years in high school as an outstanding student and athlete. But her senior year was spent in Orono as a freshman at the University of Maine. Jessica entered college a year early as part of UMaine’s early acceptance program.
Her decision to leave Boothbay a year early was made based on two lifelong passions. As an underclassman, she played on Boothbay’s field hockey and basketball teams, but her athletic days were curtailed due to a debilitating genetic tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The rare disease resulted in her shoulder being dislocated an estimated 1,000 times since childhood and in 2015 required two surgeries.
Without sports, Denise pursued another lifelong passion: her love of animals. Knowing she faced four years of undergraduate and four more of post-graduate studies, she pursued entering college a year early to study veterinary science.
So with mom finishing up her last courses and daughter beginning UMaine, the Stovers were both collegiennes during the past year dealing with a new set of challenges. Denise spent the year becoming acclimated to a more independent lifestyle, new friends and a more rigorous academic curriculum. Jessica major’s adjustment was experiencing her only child leaving home for the first time.
“It was a rough adjustment. Everything was so different. It was a different house, different dynamic. I cried for the first week,” Jessica said.
But the emptiness of the home created an opportunity for Jessica. She began focusing on her schoolwork which helped her through a difficult transition. “It turned out being great timing. I had the most challenging courses ahead of me and it gave me the time to finish,” she said.
Denise’s transition went more smoothly than her mother’s. She enjoyed the independent lifestyle of a college freshman. “Freedom was the best part of it. I liked choosing my own schedule and especially being able to take off to the store when I wanted to,” Denise said.
Their college journeys began over a decade ago. Jessica began saving money anticipating someday Denise would attend college. But in 2015, Jessica ended up being the first to attend. Her employer encouraged her to pursue an accounting degree. Jessica works in Coastal Enterprises' accounting department in Wiscasset. The online classes easily fit into her schedule and tuition was affordable.
“My office helped with financing counseling on applying for federal grants and loans. So it really wasn't all that expensive. It may have took me a little longer to graduate, but it was worth it,” she said.
Her own college experience helped her prepare for her daughter’s first year tuition. Both Stovers received Boothbay Region Student Aid Fund grants. Recent graduates, like Denise, and past graduates, like Jessica, are eligible for BRSAF grants for up to six years.
Since Denise entered college before graduating high school, she received a BRSAF grant in the spring semester, but not for the fall’s. Denise appreciated how the BRSAF's emphasis on financial need simplified the process. “It was great. All you do is fill out an application. There is no essay which makes it really convenient for students who are busy writing papers and studying for tests,” she said.
Denise took several courses in the fall semester which satisfied her high school graduation requirements. As a graduate, Jessica became eligible for federal loans, financial assistance and scholarships. Also, the Stovers created a Go Fund Me page for assisting in Denise’s fall tuition.
“The community was great. They really came together and helped us. We raised enough so we only needed to borrow about $5,000 in student loans. We are very grateful for such great community support,” Jessica said.
In the past school year, Denise made frequent trips to visit her mother in Boothbay. Jessica also made a memorable trip to Orono for her daughter’s birthday. She drove through a major snowstorm which resulted in UMaine cancelling classes the next day.
“It’s Maine and it’s December, and it always snows on her birthday. And this year it was a major one. I figured I’ve never missed a birthday yet, and I’m not going to miss this one either,” Jessica said.
However, she did miss her own graduation ceremony. Jessica opted against traveling to Manchester, New Hampshire for it. Denise was in the midst of her final exam for a veterinary science class (her cow was giving birth). “Denise was having a calf. So I thought it was more important to stay home,” she said. “But they mailed the diploma and a cap and gown so we’re going to have plenty of pictures to share this memory.”
Following the June 8 BRHS graduation, the Stovers celebrated dual graduations by having a party with friends and family at the Boothbay fire station. In following days, they also spent time together doing the tourist thing in Boothbay Harbor by shopping, eating at Kaler’s and having their hair done.
Now armed with an associate's degree, Jessica believes it will create more career opportunities in the accounting field. Denise is also hopeful early entry into college will accelerate her matriculation. She is also having a bit of deja vu about her future coursework.
Denise learned about a Canadian college allowing early entry into graduate school. “Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island offers this so maybe I can finish college in six instead of eight years."