Saint Leo University is a family affair for Diane Washington. On June 8, Washington and her twin sister, daughter, and two cousins graduated from Saint Leo's Savannah Education Center in a ceremony at the Johnny Mercer Theatre. For Washington, this marked her third time receiving a degree from Saint Leo. And she's not stopping there.

At the Savannah Education Center's commencement ceremony, Washington's twin, Dione Washington-Hicks, received her associate degree in liberal arts, while Washington's daughter, DaShai Washington (right), graduated with her associate degree liberal arts. Her cousin Burnett D. Johnson received her master's in human resources management, and cousin Roeshell Gooddine graduated with a master's in human services administration.

Attending Saint Leo has become something of a family tradition as Diane's sister Karen Daniels, graduated with her associate degree in liberal arts, and her aunt Rosa Washington earned her bachelor's degree in human services, both in 2016.

Diane Washington began her Saint Leo journey in 2009. She earned her associate degree in liberal arts in 2012, then earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice. Now, she will hold a Master of Science degree in criminal justice-critical incident management. In August, she begins studying in Saint Leo University's Doctor of Criminal Justice-homeland security program.

"I never thought my daughter and my twin sister would be graduating at the same time," Diane Washington said.

An employee of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA Local 1414), she said she began studying at Saint Leo University's Savannah Education Center because, "I felt that I had too much knowledge, and I wanted to excel in my life. I didn't just want to sit and let it go to waste. Once I received my associate degree, I just wanted to keep going."

As an adult learner, Washington managed a full-time job, her studies at Saint Leo, and her family. As a single mother to sons Demetrius and Kenneth N. Washington in addition to daughter, DaShai, Diane Washington said she had to find the extra time to study and write papers for her classes.

"In the beginning it was challenging, because I had so many other obligations," she said of pursuing a degree. "And of course, it was challenging for financial reasons."

But she didn't give up. Not only did she complete her studies, but she also was involved in Saint Leo activities including being a member of Kappa Gamma Pi, Alpha Phi Sigma, and Pi Gamma Mu honor societies and participating with Saint Leo in Savannah's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Twin sister Dione Washington-Hicks, who is the mother of four children and grandmother of four, said she returned to school because she wanted to make a change in her life. "I also wanted to instill positive qualities in my children and grandchildren and show that life does not end because you took a different path; it's how you finish that personifies who you are," she said. "I'm am so grateful to my twin sister for encouraging me to come back to school and pursue my educational endeavors, because it just showed me the way to NEVER STOP GROWING."

Washington-Hicks will be enrolled at Saint Leo's Savannah Education Center in the fall to pursue her bachelor's degree.

Burnett D. Johnson said she selected the nonprofit Saint Leo University after attending another college for one year, but "there came a moment when she needed her advisor's advice, and she was not accommodating for current students." It was not long before Johnson left.  Her search led her to Saint Leo, where she found a knowledgeable and understanding advisor. "The welcome was warm and sincere," Johnson said. "I found out that in class after class, and degree after degree, the professors went above and beyond the call of an educator."

Johnson said education "is a serious investment and is not to be taken for granted." She is mindful that her son Sha'don and his son are watching, she said. "Those two young men need a paved pathway to follow, and I'm paving the way."

She said her Saint Leo education has given her a solid foundation in human resource management. She is working as an assistant manager of human resources in logistics for a 3PL company. Johnson plans to continue working in human resources with hopes of becoming a director of HR for a Fortune 500 company.

Roeshell Gooddine graduated with her cousins and earned her master's degree in human services administration. "I will celebrate this major accomplishment and 20 years of marriage in 2019," she said. "It is truly a year of celebrations. I have been a hair stylist for the past 27 years and have won numerous competitions in the industry, both in Savannah and the surrounding counties."

Gooddine decided to go back to school in the fall of 2012. "I wanted to try a different career path," she said. "I was constantly being told how much I was always helpful to any and everyone, so I thought health care might be the field of study for me. After taking a few courses and talking with a few friends, I ultimately decided that human services was a better fit for me. I graduated with a bachelor's in human services in June of 2017." She immediately enrolled in Saint Leo's master's program.  

"The road here wasn't easy by any means," Gooddine said. "For the past four years, I've managed to be a full-time student, caretaker to my mother [getting her to and from doctor's appointments and dialysis three times a week)], a hairdresser, a wife, a mother, and grandmother. There were many sleepless nights and times that I wanted to throw the towel in and walk away, but getting this degree today has made all of the sacrifice worth it. I am proud to say that I'm a two-time Saint Leo University graduate!"

Family tradition

Karen Daniels, the sister of Diane Washington and Dione Washington-Hicks, earned her associate degree from Saint Leo in 2016. She has been a certified nursing assistant/patient support tech for more than 30 years. "I decided to go back to school and earn my degree to show my children that it is never too late to go back to college," Daniels said. "My goal is to return to Saint Leo in the fall to complete my bachelor's degree in health care administration, and I would like to open several personal care homes for elderly, disabled, and mentally challenged seniors and individuals," Daniels said.

After earning her bachelor's degree from Saint Leo, the women's aunt, Rosie Washington, went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from Armstrong State University, and now is an English/language arts/social studies instructor for Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

For the extended Washington family, education is key to their success and on June 8, they celebrated their degrees and their love of Saint Leo University.