When Elizabeth Sutherland reached the graduation stage of McDaniel College on May 19, she was told to wait.
The announcer said the next two people would walk across the stage together. Then, Elizabeth and her son, Stephen Sutherland, strolled across the stage together.
“And with that, the whole auditorium got up and started to clap for us,” Elizabeth said. “I can’t even tell you what that felt like. It was unbelievable.”
Elizabeth and Stephen each graduated from the Westminster, Md.-based liberal arts college with a Master of Science in curriculum and instruction.
The mother and son duo —Elizabeth, a fourth-grade teacher at Poolesville Elementary School, and Stephen, a special education teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda — decided to enroll in the program together to motivate and encourage each other.
“We both knew we’d be there for each other to push each other,” Stephen said.
They took one or two classes together; the rest separately.
“I would tell her what to expect from certain classes; she would say what to expect for me,” Stephen said.
Their mutual support system helped the pair make it through the program. At the beginning, Stephen needed the extra encouragement to hone in on the work and complete assignments. But during an internship in adminstration toward the end of the program, the roles switched.
Elizabeth hit a wall when she was weeks away from completing the internship and thought she could not continue, she said.
“I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it was so hard for me to sit down and write a paper and read,” Elizabeth said. “It was almost like I became this toddler and I was digging my feet in and was like, I can’t do this. And the roles changed. Stephen was then like, ‘Mom, there’s no way you can stop now. What do you need me to do to help you?’”
Her son’s support saw her though the bad patch, Elizabeth said.
“I can’t imagine not having him,” she said.
Stephen “was someone that I could have a conversation with ... he understood what I was going through,” she added. “No one else really understood. Stephen, he’s got one of the biggest hearts of anybody I know.”