Graduation day is a family affair

By Bob Jackson


When Addie Litowitz walked across the stage to accept her diploma from Youngstown State University, no one in the huge Beeghly Center crowd was any more proud than her mom, Becky.

And vice versa.

The mother and daughter, and three of their relatives, were among more than 1,300 graduates who participated in Saturday’s commencement ceremonies.

“It’s amazing that our family is doing this,” said Heather Bayless of Niles, who is the sister of Becky’s husband, Pat. “Five from one family, all graduating from YSU on the same day. That’s really special.”

Bayless’ twin sister, Heidi Alflen, and Alflen’s daughter, Colleen Alflen, also graduated.

Heidi and Heather, 45, each received a master’s degree in nursing to become family nurse practitioners. Addie Litowitz received a bachelor’s degree in English; Colleen Alflen received a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care; and Becky Litowitz received a bachelor’s degree in general studies.

And two other relatives will mark May as a milestone month: Heather’s daughter, Kayla Bayless, recently received a bachelor’s degree in political science/criminal justice from the University of Akron, and Heidi’s daughter, Cylie Alflen, will graduate later this month as valedictorian of her class at Niles High School.

And, for a little icing on that achievement cake, Addie Litowitz got engaged a week ago.

“I don’t know how much more we can fit into the month of May,” said a smiling Becky.

While graduation day was special for all of them, it was particularly rewarding for Becky, 52, who’d begun pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in 1980, but was never able to finish it because “life got in the way.”

She had nearly completed her degree in music at the Dana School of Music and needed only to do her student teaching and pass a juried piano performance, which proved to be a tough obstacle.

“I don’t want to say I wasn’t proficient [at piano], but I was more of a vocal student,” she said. After failing the piano jury three times, she’d had enough and didn’t go back.

“She always said that was her one big regret, that she couldn’t finish her degree,” Addie said.

But recently, Becky learned that if she completed just one class at YSU, she could graduate with her general-studies degree and become the first of five children in her family to become a college graduate.

“When I found out about that, I said, ‘I’m going to do this,’” she said.

Becky signed up for an Introduction to Anthropology class and set out to finish what she’d started. Her husband, Pat, and Addie supported her all the way, she said. By day, she worked at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, where she is customer-service manager. In the evenings, she went to school.

Becky said she plans to remain at the chamber, where she’s been for 17 years, but she always will remember the excitement of graduating with her daughter.

“I’m just closing a chapter,” she said. “It’s more important for me to see [Addie] get her degree.”

Addie, 24, said she and her mother have always been close, so being able to share the graduation stage made for a special day.

“I’m really proud of her,” she said, noting that she hopes to use her degree to land a job in the publishing industry.

Bayless and Alflen, who both live in Niles and work at the Cleveland Clinic, said they hoped their educational pursuits will inspire their children to succeed.

“Heather and I did a lot of this together. We want our kids to see that if Mom can work full time and go to college and get a degree, then they can do it, too,” Alflen said.

Alflen has been a registered nurse at the Cleveland Clinic for 19 years, but now will work at CVS Minute Clinic in Cleveland.

“We were raised with the philosophy that education is a powerful tool and is the one thing that no one can take away from you,” Bayless added.

She already has accepted a job as family nurse practitioner in the emergency room of the Marymount Hospital of the Cleveland Clinic, and as a health assessment nurse practitioner for various insurance companies.

And in keeping with the family tradition of medical care, Colleen Alflen has landed a job as a respiratory therapist at Cleveland Clinic.

Jim Tressel, YSU’s newly appointed president, who will take office in July, attended graduation and spent time beforehand meeting graduates and faculty members.

“This is why we’re here. This is what the school was built for,” Tressel said of commencement. “There’s nothing better than today.”

The featured commencement speaker was Robert W. Shroder, president and CEO of Humility of Mary Health Partners.

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