Southeast Commencement Marks Milestone Achievements for Grandmother, Granddaughter


Tessa McNallyCAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri, Dec. 10, 2014 – Southeast Missouri State University student Tessa McNally of Jackson, Missouri, and her grandmother Karen Donner will soon celebrate two milestones in both of their lives.

Having a granddaughter complete a degree from Southeast 50 years after her own graduation is “absolutely wonderful,” says Donner

McNally plans to graduate from Southeast Dec. 20 with a Bachelor of Science in Education with a major in early childhood education.

“Graduating on my grandmother’s 50th class reunion makes me feel like everything happened for a purpose. All of the little roadblocks in my life and all the little ‘pass go and collect $200’ type of occurrences were worth it. It’s cool to see how it worked out to make my graduation extra special,” McNally said.

Donner, a St. Louis resident, initially came to Southeast because of a close friend, but soon found the college at that time, to be a good fit. She graduated from Southeast Missouri State College in 1964 with her degree in education specializing in biology and physical education.

McNally says her grandmother did influence her decision to come to Southeast.  However, being awarded the Regents’ Scholarship was more of a draw to the University than family ties.

“Three out of four of my grandparents came to Southeast. My grandmother graduated from Southeast, her husband graduated from Southeast and my other grandfather graduated from Southeast. It just flowed down the family line,” says McNally. “The free 15 hours (a semester) really helped influence my decision to come to Southeast. I would not have gone to college without the Regents’ Scholarship. There is no way around it. I could not have afforded college.”

Donner and McNally agree their passion for education and Southeast has strengthened their bond. After three generations of educators, the duo notes that teaching may be more than a personal interest; it may be a family skill.

“We talk about differences in the program and teaching. It’s the same degree, but 50 years makes so much of a difference,” McNally said.

“Tessa has grown up teaching in her family business (a gymnastics facility her family owned and operated for over 20 years),” says Donner. “So, I’m not sure if I have had any influence on her in that regard — she’s just grown up teaching.”

McNally’s mother attended Southeast as an education major as well, but did not complete her degree.

“Tessa’s mother almost made it. She was an education major as well and had one credit left to take, her student teaching,” Donner said.

McNally reflected, “Well, my mom grew up teaching because my grandmother was a teacher. It’s a family thing.”