Southern graduates 566 including mother and son, and online students

It’s an awkward thing for a young man to spend too much time with his mother. It’s outright peculiar when mother and son enroll in the same school and take some of the same classes on their way to completing the same degree program.

But Wanda Landry, 59, and her son, Douglas, 24, got through it. Two years after enrolling in Southern University’s master of business administration program together, the two walked across the stage Friday at the F.G. Clark Activity Center as proud holders of graduate degrees. They were joined by Southern’s first two students to graduate from online degree programs.

Classmates of the mother and son duo thought their arrangement was endearing; Douglas found it a little bit uncomfortable.

“The awkward part about it is that, as a man, anytime you have your mama with you, you feel like a mama’s boy,” Douglas said. “She might see something on your cheek and come over and wipe it off.”

Douglas, who goes by D.J., also had to endure his mother’s notoriety.

“She’s quite a character,” he said. “People knew my mother before they knew me. My mama was more popular than me. People would call me Miss Wanda’s son. I’d have to tell them my name is D.J.”

Despite their time together at school being a little bit socially clumsy, Douglas said he is proud to have stood next to his mother and more than 560 other students on graduation day.

“That’s my mother; she’s the woman who birthed me,” Douglas said. “My dad died when I was a baby, so this was a great moment for me and her to share ... a proud moment.

Wanda, the elder Landry, understands that she came to be sitting next to her son on graduation day out of his concern for her.

Wanda explains that in 2011, she spent most of her time at work, church, home or at the hospital looking after her ailing father.

“He saw me, I guess, not having the will to do anything else and he challenged me to do something else,” Wanda said. “He decided to go back to school to get his master’s and he talked me into going back to school after 38 years.”

The 2013 classroom experience was a big adjustment from the last time Wanda sat through a lecture, back in 1975 when she was an accounting major at Southern.

“There was definitely a generational difference,” Wanda said. “I’m good with a pencil. It was more of a pencil thing in my day. We didn’t have computers and smartphones.”

But she said her son was there for her.

“He helped me a lot,” she said. “It was a challenge especially for me not necessarily being familiar with the technology. He helped me through it.”

Joined by the Landrys walking across the graduation stage Friday were Rhonda Sylvain and Myra Victor, the first two students to graduate from one of Southern’s online degree programs, both earning master of public administration degrees.

Southern just recently began offering fully-online degree programs as a way to boost enrollment to offset year after year state budget cuts.

Sylvain and Victor are the face of Southern’s foray into the online world.

Sylvain, a lawyer living in League City, Texas, said she’s always wanted to start a nonprofit to work with low-income children, but working full-time, then going straight from work to a three-hour class that ends at 9 p.m. was too much for her.

“Doing this online was right for me,” she said. “It’s for working adults.”

Sylvain said she and Victor leaned on each other throughout the experience communicating by email and phone. The two met for the first time Monday while on Southern’s campus.

“It’s actually an honor for us to be the first two to graduate from the online program,” Sylvain said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Victor, who lives in Baker and works for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said she chose Southern’s online program because it is affordable. She chose the MPA program in order to make strides in the nonprofit arena, specifically with the free mentoring program she started for girls.

“I want to help the youth and their families,” she said. ‘I feel like Southern has given me a great opportunity.”