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Mother-Daughter Team Graduate from UT Together

May 6, 2020

Although former New Jerseyan Lynn Johnson did not finish her college degree immediately after high school, she has led a successful career as CFO and partner at Johnson Architecture and as a controller for different organizations over the years. However, as her younger daughter was plowing through her sophomore year in the College of Communications at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Johnson resolved to return to college as a nontraditional student and complete her degree.

“Sarah was struggling in some of her classes, so I decided I would go back, and we could finish together,” Lynn Johnson says. “It was, ‘If she can do it, so can I,’ and vice versa.”

Agreeing with her mother’s assessment, Sarah adds, “I was proud of her for going back. My friends would say, 'Your mom is in my class,’ and it would hit me, 'She's actually doing it.'"

Lynn’s older daughter, Caroline, had graduated from the Haslam College of Business, so she knew it to be a high-quality business school. With her family’s support, Lynn applied and was accepted, not knowing what the journey would entail.

Lynn faced some early challenges as things had changed substantially since the 1980s.

“Basic and Cobalt were encompassed in one class, and the calculator and typewriter were the only technological items around then,” she says.

Her advisors helped Lynn stay on pace to obtain her degree in May 2020 with her daughter, although a few summer classes were needed to keep the duo on track. Several experiences stand out from her time at UT.

“The BUAD 453 class was the most challenging and rewarding,” Lynn says. “And I valued the interaction, respect and acceptance from the traditional students.”

Lynn worked on group projects with classmates who were Sarah’s friends, and she and Sarah enjoyed running into each other around campus and sometimes studying together. She also learned how to use a multifunctional calculator, baked homemade chocolate chip cookies for her study-session cohorts, and, while she hated probability and statistics in the ’80s, she tutored in it in 2018. As a nontraditional student, Lynn found she shared many traditional experiences with her cohort.

Mother and daughter graduated together in May as planned, the culmination of a wonderful journey.

“This was one of the most rewarding and amazing bonding experiences I have had in my lifetime,” Lynn says. “We laughed, cried and endured daily challenges together.”


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist, rmcnutt4@utk.edu