‘Graduation Won’t Tear Us Apart’

‘Graduation Won’t Tear Us Apart’

Father, Daughter Complete Undergrad Degrees, Will Walk Together at Commencement

Robert and Kyleah-Mae McCloud will celebrate commencement as father and daughter.

By David Miller

For Robert McCloud, Army deployments to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s, combined with the births of his three children, reshaped his perspective of the value of education. McCloud, who quit high school three times before finishing and joining the military, remembers initially declining the GI Bill when it was offered by the Army.

“I told them, ‘have a nice day … you can keep your money,’” McCloud said. “But things change and people grow up.

“It’s one thing to tell your children to get good grades; it’s another to show them you can do it, too.”

McCloud would earn an associate degree from Central Texas College in 2006 before enrolling at The University of Alabama in May 2014. McCloud, a retired Army veteran who lives in Arizona, would major in business administration and take two classes a semester via Bama By Distance.

The pace was perfect for McCloud, who works full time for the federal government. He creates training modules and helps military units in Arizona incorporate technology and strategy into various training programs.

And though he didn’t know it when he first enrolled, he’d share his first commencement experience with his daughter, Kyleah-Mae, a social work major. The McClouds will participate in the 1:30 p.m. commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 15, at Coleman Coliseum.

Robert finished his degree in August and sought approval from the College of Continuing Studies and the Culverhouse College of Business to delay walking until December, when Kyleah-Mae would graduate. He didn’t tell her the plan until both colleges approved.

“My mom told me that Dad thought I’d be upset, but I was thrilled when I found out,” Kyleah-Mae said. “We’ve become so much closer throughout this experience. Friends come and go in college, but graduation won’t tear us apart.”

Initial struggles

Like many undergrads, Robert and Kyleah-Mae would commiserate about the college experience, from the stress and anxiety of finals to triumphs like acing a class or beginning an internship.

The shared experience even led to Kyleah-Mae picking a biology section based on Robert’s feedback from a previous semester.

Robert and Kyleah-Mae each began their undergraduate studies at UA in 2014.

Trudy, Robert’s wife and Kyleah-Mae’s mother, earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California earlier this month. The three talked frequently about school.

“Whether one of us was struggling with a class or just needed reassurance from one another that we could do this … we worked to not let the little things get us bummed out,” Robert said.

Coincidentally, the emotional weight of navigating college almost derailed Kyleah-Mae’s time at UA. Childhood trauma that lingered through her teens spilled over into her first few years on campus and resulted in a string of failed classes.

A support system would materialize through UA faculty and via her job at the UA Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, where she worked for a little more than two years. When she changed her major to social work, Dr. Laura Hopson, director of the undergraduate social work program, guided her through financial aid options and career opportunities.

“I almost failed out of UA. It took me wanting to help myself, because I’ve known I had a diagnosis of anxiety and depression since fifth grade,” Kyleah-Mae said. “But I’d never been willing to tell any psychiatrists what was going on. But the VMA and CVA (Campus Veterans Association) were a great community to help me through it.

“Also, seeing [Robert] doing better and getting closer to graduation motivated me to get it together.”

Commencement day, beyond

The McClouds expect roughly 15 friends and family members on both sides to attend commencement.

The milestone will culminate nearly 50 years of University of Alabama exposure and influence for Robert, whose late grandmother, Sybil, was originally from Tallassee and was a huge Alabama fan.

“I grew up with nothing but Alabama stuff all around the house,” Robert said. “So when I got the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree, there was only one school I thought about attending.”

Sybil was a “driving force to do better” in Robert’s life, Kyleah-Mae said. Through a career in social work, Kyleah-Mae hopes to replicate the compassion and guidance to troubled youth that her great-grandmother provided to Robert, and which he ultimately gave her.

“It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to learn more details about dropping out, not having help or not having the finances to do it,” Kyleah-Mae said. “So he always made sure we were prepared and seeking school information for us – by middle school, I knew all the college requirements. When I got to Alabama, I knew all the ins and outs of the GI Bill. He wanted us to understand what we’re getting and to know how important it is.”

While Kyleah-Mae will move back to Arizona and continue searching for her first job, Robert is contemplating pursuing a master’s degree, possibly in instructional technology.