At this year’s graduation, mother and son will cross the stage together
By PAULETTE PARKER
Washtenaw Community College’s student demographic spans many ages and stages of life, from those just beginning their college education to those looking for a career change. Nowhere will this be more apparent than at May’s commencement ceremony when mother and son, Pornpimol (Tym) and Nicholas Hilliard will both graduate from WCC, moving on to the next phase of their lives.
Occupational studies major, Tym, 61, of Ann Arbor, took her first English class at WCC in 1982, shortly after moving to Ann Arbor from England with husband, John Hilliard. She returned to WCC in 2010 after losing her job in the Ann Arbor public schools system, a position she held for more than 10 years. For her, WCC became a place of second chances and self-discovery.
Engineering major, Nicholas, 23, of Ann Arbor, will leave WCC with associate degrees in math and science, and welding and fabrication. For him, the start he received at WCC has prepared him invaluably for his transfer to Michigan Technological University in Houghton, where he will study material sciences.
Both believe they wouldn’t be where they are today without WCC. When Tym lost her job, she decided to continue her education at WCC because it was local.
“I didn’t realize how wonderful the school was until I started,” she said. She started out in the culinary arts program, motivated by her ability to cook. Her experiences included working in WCC’s Sweet Spot. She realized how different it is to cook in a restaurant.
“You really need to love to cook for people all the time, and that wasn’t me,” she said. Tym decided to take her focus off of a specific occupation, and instead began exploring possibilities.
“I’ve just been working through, trying to find a niche for myself,” she said. “(WCC) gave me the opportunity to explore the sort of stuff that I didn’t know that I might enjoy.” She took an unexpected liking to psychology, communications and math.
“I always thought I would have a lot of trouble with math because I’ve never been really good at it,” Tym said. “But, surprisingly, I did really well and quite enjoyed it. I find it challenging and fun to do math now, and it used to be something I would dread.” She also faced her fear of technology.
“I learned how to type on a manual typewriter,” she said, but WCC forced her to interact with computers.
“The computer is a great tool – I love using Blackboard and all that now – but I’m always kind of afraid of losing stuff. I’m always anxious when I’m using the computer,” she said.
Nicholas took a motorcycle course at WCC when he was 16 years old. Unsure of exactly what he wanted to do after high school, WCC seemed like the best choice for him at the time.
“It turned out to be a great choice in the end,” he said.
“I’ve never been to a place where everyone is so friendly and so eager to help you no matter where you’re going to school. Math department, science department, English department, the welding department, just all the people are willing to bend over backwards to make it so you can succeed,” Nicholas said. “Everyone on the staff seems to have that ideal.”
WCC has also helped cut his costs with scholarships and grants, including the Foundation Scholarship and a welding scholarship, he said.
Nicholas is proud of all the hard work his mom has put into her education. He knows it hasn’t been easy, he said.
“I was really glad she got to experience how welcoming Washtenaw can be and how helpful,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what the next step holds.” John also takes notice of his wife’s resiliency.
“There’s one word for [her]: Tenacious. She simply will not give up until she gets the job done,” John said.
Tym is equally proud of her son, she said, and points to the qualities they share that help them both succeed.
“He’s got similar attributes as me: He’s conscientious, hardworking. He had to go to work and go to school at the same time. He’s got great work ethic,” Tym said. “I’m really proud of him also. He’s sticking to his commitments and setting goals, and he works hard to try to achieve that.”
Nicholas aspires to work with metal after completing his bachelor’s degree.
“Just basically making stuff and putting my mark on the world would be ideal,” he said.
John, a former professor at the University of Michigan, sees a bright future for his son after WCC.
“Let’s be perfectly honest, some parents view the choice of a community college over a standard four-year college somewhat disparagingly,” John said. “That must be because they fail to recognize the wisdom, flexibility, safety-net and cost savings of the community college transfer process.”
For Nicholas, graduating is bittersweet.
“It’s really satisfying, but, at the same time, it’s really sad because I’ll always view Washtenaw Community College as my home,” he said. “I’ve been there for a few years now. I’m really going to miss the place, and I really hope I can come back and visit again. Maybe later on down the road I’ll take some more classes at Washtenaw.”
Tym plans to take a break after graduating to contemplate her future plans, and reflect on how far she has come.
“There’s been times when I didn’t think I could continue, but I kept on, and I feel quite proud that I’m achieving this goal for myself,” she said. “I’m proud that I didn’t give up when things got tough, and I kept going. I’m really happy that I’m leaving WCC with an associate degree.”