When the photo went viral and reporters started calling, it struck LaWanda Flennoy as odd.
She questioned why having three generations graduating in her south suburban family was such a novelty.
“I’d posted the photo on Facebook, and my niece submitted it to the ‘Because of Them We Can’ Facebook page,” says Flennoy, 45, of Beecher, who graduated from South Suburban College on May 21 with an associate’s degree in psychology. “We started getting calls out of everywhere.
“I didn’t think it was news,” says Flennoy. “Because it shouldn’t be news.”
Flennoy’s referring to the accomplishment portrayed in the aforementioned photo, which was taken by Darryl Hammond of Hammond Photo Design Studios in the South Loop.
Her oldest daughter, Paris Griffin, 25, who graduated from Chicago State University on May 11 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, had wanted a keepsake before relocating to Austin, Texas, to begin a job with Apple.
The poignant photo includes the mother, three daughters and a granddaughter — all wearing cream-colored outfits, holding tasseled graduation caps with “2017” emblazoned on top.
Posted on the popular social media site that pays tribute to black history and promotes positive African-American images, the photo has received 7,100 likes and been shared nearly 1,600 times since May 3.
“I’d never planned on being in the photo, but the girls insisted, so I was just in two shots,” says Flennoy, whose middle daughter, Amari Griffin, 23, graduated May 6 from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.
Amari Griffin is moving to Dearborn, Mich., to start a job with Ford Motor Co.
Flennoy’s youngest daughter, Jade Griffin, 18, graduates Sunday from Beecher High School. She’s headed to Illinois State University next year to study criminal justice.
Then, there’s 4-year-old granddaughter Brooklyn Nunley, Paris Griffin’s daughter, who graduates from preschool at Grand Crossing Kids Care on June 2. That counts, too.
“I’m just really proud of my girls,” Flennoy says. “There’s so much that’s gone into that photo.
“They’ve all had their challenges, especially Paris. After she had her baby, most people expected her not to go back to school because of this little girl. But Paris persevered. And the UIC engineering program was really tough and a bit of a struggle, but Amari worked hard those five years and persevered. Jade has overcome challenges, as well.”
In her young life, even Brooklyn has persevered. Born with metachromatic leukodystrophy, a rare, genetic, degenerative, neurometabolic disorder that affects approximately one in 40,000 people worldwide, she was cleared of the condition by doctors a year ago, her grandmother says.
Paris Griffin spoke of her daughter when she delivered an address on behalf of students at Chicago State’s commencement ceremony. As the student government president and student representative on CSU’s board, she had been front and center articulating student anger over the state budget impasse the past two years. The budget crisis devastated the beleaguered school and led to cuts, layoffs and furloughs at all public universities.
Flennoy is a different story.
“I’m an introvert and really shy,” she says. “So all of this attention is like ‘Whoa!’ for me. The first call came from PopSugar.com, then it just snowballed. It’s been ‘Inside Edition,’ USA Today, ‘Good Morning America,’ Fox News, CBS News, HuffPost.com, you name it. Also, I just didn’t think this was a big deal.”
The overnight star calls herself an ordinary person, born and raised on the South Side, youngest of 11 children. Her father retired as an Illinois secretary of state’s office police officer. Her mother worked for the Chicago Public Schools and for many years drove a school bus.
As a teen, Flennoy’s family moved to Calumet City, and she attended Thornwood High School. She was married to her high school sweetheart, Robert Griffin, for 12 years, working in administrative positions at various firms while raising her children. She and second husband Stan Flennoy have been married nine years.
During her previous job, in the human resources department of Macy’s, she realized this was a field she enjoyed, and enrolled at South Suburban. Downsized at Macy’s last year, she now works at a Chicago advertising firm.
“I’ve been working since I was 16 years old,” Flennoy says. “My goal is to move into human resources. I’m an executive assistant and wanted my psychology degree in order to do that at the company I’m at now. It’s all about persevering.”