Major milestone: Bridgeport mother and son earn degrees on the same weekend

The pair say while they have always been close, they are closer than ever after earning their degrees simultaneously and becoming the first in their family to do so.

Frank Recchia and Rose Shannon

Jun 24, 2023, 4:38 PM

Updated 296 days ago

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A Bridgeport mother and son are celebrating a major milestone in their family.
"I've never been more proud," said 41-year-old Toccara Whitaker about her 24-year-old son, Gene Brown, who just received his bachelor of science degree from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. He plans to now get his MBA in accounting.
"There's nothing scarier than to have a Black son in this country right now," Whitaker said. "To have him focused on something positive, I can't ask for anything more than that."
"During slavery, it was dangerous for us to learn how to read or write, and now we live in a modern age where every Black man can accomplish that goal of getting a degree," Brown said.
"Education is important because it's your foundation for everything," Whitaker said.
But there's more than one new college graduate at the top of this hill. On the same weekend that Brown received his degree, Whitaker, a substitute special education teacher at Boys and Girl's Village at Charles Hayden School in Milford, received her masters at the University of Hartford. She can now get her state teaching certification and earn more money as a full-time special educator.
"In my 40s, I had an opportunity to return to school," Whitaker said. "He had his on Saturday and I had mine on Sunday, on Mother's Day, so that was the best gift I could have ever received -- to see my son walk across that stage."
Brown said it feels amazing to be celebrating this mutual milestone with his mother.
"It was very exciting because I just felt like I was making history with her," Brown said.
"Only he and I understand how much we struggled, and how hard we worked and how long the road was for us to finally end up here," Whitaker said.
Whitaker said football has always helped to keep her son grounded and focused on success. She said their future looks brighter than ever.
"I'm just so proud of him. He's such a good kid," Whitaker said. "I can't even explain the feeling because your education is something that no one can take from you."
Whitaker said she got pregnant with her son at the age of 16 and ended up dropping out of school. Now she hopes to be a role model to other young mothers by showing them it is never too late to finish one's education.


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