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Graduation 'sweeter' for mother and son

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Kayla Bunge
April 3, 2008
— It’s one thing to watch your son walk across the stage at his college graduation. It’s quite another to cross the same stage mere moments before him.

Mary Elsner, 42, and her son, Scott, 23, will graduate from UW-Whitewater in May with bachelor’s degrees in music.


“It doesn’t seem really real yet,” Mary said.


Mary and Scott didn’t plan on going to the same school, let alone sitting next to each other in class. It happened by accident, really.


After graduating from Viroqua High School in 1983, Mary planned on attending VanderCook College of Music in Chicago; she wanted to become a high school band director.


But that didn’t happen.


She married her love, Randy, gave birth to Scott and quickly put college on hold.


The Elsner household always was filled with music. Mary and Randy played in the Madison Municipal Band, and Scott played in the Poynette High School band.


Upon his graduation from high school, Scott decided to attend UW-Whitewater, a campus with which he was familiar because of the state marching band competition and summer band camps.


After attending Madison Area Technical College for two years, it was time for Mary to transfer to a four-year college. She chose UW-Whitewater.


The decision wasn’t easy. Mary and Scott both felt comfortable with the school, but the thought of being in school together made them a little uneasy.


Scott reassured his mom.


“It was an issue of home for us,” he said. “I said, ‘Mom, if this is home, and you come and go to school here, so what if I’m going to school here, too?’”


Mary and Scott admit that being mother and son and being classmates is weird.


Their learning styles are very different.


Mary’s nose is always in a book, and she’s diligent about taking notes. But Scott just absorbs the content.


Sometimes Scott made the mistake of sitting next to Mary in class. If he started nodding off, he’d get “the elbow” from mom.


But Mary and Scott have never hidden their mother-son relationship. In fact, Mary is known as ‘Mom’ to the UW-Whitewater Warhawk Marching Band, in which she plays the clarinet and Scott plays the tuba.


Some of her son’s classmates call her ‘Mom,’ too.


“A lot of the kids don’t know what to call me,” Mary said. “(Scott) called me Mom, so they called me Mom.”


For Scott, going to college was a logical step after high school. But for Mary, earning a degree is fulfilling a lifelong dream. And Scott couldn’t be more proud of her.


“She’s been able to … redefine herself, definitely take a different path on her journey through life,” he said. “And it’s been really cool to see how both of us have grown in this setting.”


Mary said she’s happy to share the experience with her son.


“It’s one thing to do this alone, when you’re young. It’s quite another to be able to do this next to your child,” she said. “It makes it all the sweeter.”



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