Negaunee Mother and Son Graduate Together
Diane Darlington plans to “get a big frame” for the NMU diploma she will earn Saturday, but jokingly debated with her son—and fellow graduate, Michael Darlington-West—whether it should hang prominently in the family’s living room. Her achievement may warrant high visibility. Darlington is 70 years old and managed to complete a bachelor’s degree in French at a full-time pace almost equal to her 23-year-old son’s. It timed such that both are marching in the same commencement. They even had a few classes together along the way and recalled with humor the awkwardness of sitting in the same row for a particular reproductive health presentation.
“I was the eldest student in every course and older than all of my professors,” said Darlington, who volunteered her age with justified pride. “I had taken continuing education classes before, but nothing that would apply toward a degree. When I learned about NMU’s tuition benefit for people 62 and older, I enrolled with the intent to try my best, but wasn’t planning to graduate. I got involved in the First Year Experience and developed some friendships, including one woman who joined me in a study abroad trip to Europe through the French program. Once I began attending regularly, everything seemed to fall into place.”
When asked for his response to his mother’s achievement, Michael replied, “When I first started at Northern, I never thought I’d be graduating with my mom. It’s nice she has had something to keep her busy. She also gets really good grades and that motivates me to want to do better.”
French might seem an appropriate major for Darlington because it is the official language of her native Montreal. But she started out in photography at NMU before changing course and soon realized that her time away from Quebec had diminished her language skills. She and husband, Tom West, had been living in Calgary when he was hired to direct the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming. The family moved to the area in 2005.
Darlington said she did not enroll in college after high school because the cost was prohibitive. There were hardly any scholarships for women at that time and her parents did not have the financial capacity to support her education. Even without a degree, she was able to launch an enviable 23-year career with Canada's first educational television network, the bulk of it spent as a producer and director.
“I was able to enjoy a long career when women’s rights were hot topics and it was hard for women to advance professionally,” Darlington said. “You really needed a good mentor to get somewhere and I was fortunate to have one. From my perspective, with that background, I find NMU to be a great breeding ground for equality and creating opportunities for both women and men in fields where they haven’t had much representation in the past. Most departments here really do a good job of preparing students for what’s out there.”
A degree will not conclude Darlington’s education. In true lifelong learning fashion, she will continue to attend NMU classes, but on a part-time basis. Her next semester includes tai chi for seniors, a geography class and holistic healing.
The latter piqued the interest of Michael, a health and fitness management major who recognizes that a holistic approach is highly relevant to his career path. He’s working as a ski instructor at Marquette Mountain with no immediate plans after graduation. Who knows? He and his mom may share one more class together come January. For now, they are looking forward to a joint, well-earned celebration on Saturday.