Graduating is an important milestone in any person’s life.
And it was a moment made even more special for mother-son duo Joanne Parker and Dylan Tulleth, when they both donned cap and gown to walk across the stage at Dundee and Angus College in October.
Although the pair from Arbroath graduated in different subjects, they were able to support one another during their studies.
Joanne, 40, was inspired to enrol at the college after looking through the prospectus with Dylan, 19, who was considering various courses.
It was then that she learned about online and distance learning courses – an option which would allow her to continue working.
While Dylan pursued an HNC in sports coaching and development, Joanne signed up for an HNC in administration and information technology.
The mum-of-one worked as a pupil support assistant at Arbroath Academy – the same school Dylan attended – before going to college.
She had always wanted to change her career but didn’t have the qualifications to do so.
But she is now working as a financial accessor at Angus Council – a role she finds equal parts challenging and rewarding.
She said: “When I left school I went straight into full-time work because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise.
“Then a year later I had Dylan, so work was the only way forward.
“But because I was a single mum at the time and trying to juggle childcare I ended up applying for a job in a secondary school so I could have all the school holidays so I could look after Dylan and not have to worry about childcare.
“I ended up being in that job for 16 years.
“When Dylan got older to the point where he was leaving school, I just wanted a change.
“But because I didn’t have any qualifications from college I really struggled.
“I got a new job at the beginning of my studies because I was able to put on my application form that I was studying for my HNC.”
Juggling college course with full-time job
Joanne, who lives with Dylan and her partner Alan, says it was hard to juggle the two-year course with her full time job.
She said: “I found it difficult to spend all day working and then switch off and go into study mode.
“Most weeks I gave up my Sundays just to put time aside to study and do my assignments, instead of trying to do everything in the evenings.”
But she says that studying alongside Dylan made things easier as they could support one another.
She said: “We wouldn’t bump into each other on campus or anything like that because I was doing an evening course and it was all online classes.
“So I was just in the house while Dylan was out and about.
“But we would always come together and discuss our assignments and how we were feeling about things and bounce ideas off of each other.
“Dylan would say he was finding it hard and I would feel the exact same way and could sympathise.
“But then I would say, ‘We’re going to do this!’, and we would find a way to complete it.
“It was a good support system for both of us.”
Joanne, who was a single mum when she had Dylan in her early 20s, says they have always had a “special bond”.
She said: “Dylan is happy to talk to me about anything which I feel so proud about as kids growing up can normally be embarrassed to go to their parents.
“Although we have a strong mother-son relationship, I also feel like there is a great friendship between us.”
Joanne’s struggle to complete course after dad’s sudden death
Unfortunately, the week before Joanne’s final assignment in June – the one which would determine whether she passed the course or not – her dad Ray died suddenly.
He was only 67 years old when he suffered a cardiac arrest.
She said: “It was the last week of my course and I was just about to do the final assignment when my dad suddenly passed away.
“He went out for a walk and he never came home.
“It was so sudden. He wasn’t unwell and he didn’t have any underlying health conditions.
“He just went out, had a cardiac arrest, and that was it.
“The ambulance got there really quickly but they couldn’t do anything for him.
“He wasn’t even old at all, it was just horrendous.
“At that point I didn’t know if I was going to be able to complete my course because I wasn’t able to study with everything that was going on.”
Thankfully, Joanne’s lecturer was understanding and offered her an extension to complete her assignment
She said: “My lecturer said she would help me catch up over the summer break so I could complete the final assignment, which I managed to do in mid-July.
“I feel so grateful they were able to offer that flexibility because otherwise I would have had to resit the whole year.
“The thought of joining another class in another year was just too much for me.”
Graduation day a bittersweet occasion without much-loved dad and grandad
Joanne says graduation day at Dundee and Angus College was a bittersweet occasion without her dad.
She said: “My mum and two sisters attended which was great, but I know that my dad would have absolutely been there too to celebrate with us .
“It was a happy but very sad occasion without him.
“We are a really close family. We are family who do everything together every single weekend and family always comes first.
“So it is a big change – I think that’s why we are finding it so tough.”
Dylan, who has continued his studies onto HND level at Dundee and Angus College, wants to pursue a career in sports coaching.
He hopes to complete his higher education at Abertay University after he gains his HND qualification.
He currently helps coach at Arbroath Youth Football Club while also working at Carnoustie Sports Centre.
What was it like to study alongside his mum?
Dylan said: “Unique is the word.
“I would help her as much as I could and vice versa as well – and I think we did alright for the most part.”
He joked: “She’d be sitting in her classes in the evening when I was done for the day so I kind of got to rub it in her face a little bit.”
Describing his time as a pupil at Arbroath Academy, while his mum worked at the school, he said: “I always had to be on my best behaviour because she was on me like a hawk!
“But it was great. If I ever had any concerns, she was never far away.”