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Degree, Times Three

Featured Photo from Degree, Times Three

This local family earns a Ph.D., a master’s, and a bachelor’s degree... all in one weekend!

The Carbone family of Lake Mary recently celebrated a major milestone. Actually, make that three major milestones... all at the same time. Three members of the family earned three different college degrees, all during the course of a long, three-day weekend.

That’s a lot of Pomp and Circumstance!

The family rolled the three graduation ceremonies into a single, once-in-a-lifetime event in December. Dad Tom, Sr. received his Ph.D. in modeling and simulation from the University of Central Florida, where he is also a professor. Daughter Olivia kept it local as well, earning her bachelor’s in biomedical science from UCF. Her brother Simon, meanwhile, went a few hours north to get his master’s degree in adult education from Auburn University.

“I don’t think very many families have had one of each during the graduation process,” says proud mom Christina.

It’s a lot of degrees, but there are even more diplomas hanging in the Carbone home. Oldest son Tom, Jr. earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He now works as a social media manager for a video game company in Chicago. Before earning his master’s, Simon attended the University of Florida, where he received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. 

And Tom, Sr. could wallpaper a small office with his diplomas. He holds a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and two master’s degrees (one in electrical engineering and the second in modeling and simulation). After many years of video-game programming at Electronic Arts in Maitland, where he was a lead programmer for the company’s top-selling Madden NFL game, Tom entered the education field about a dozen years ago. He teaches at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy in downtown Orlando, and while working there, he decided to pursue a Ph.D.

Tom didn’t complete the doctoral program all in one chunk, though, and that’s what set the table for the family’s eventual commencement coincidence. 

Between teaching at UCF, caring for his family, and helping to manage a business on the side, Tom’s Ph.D. studies eventually took a back seat. That is, until he realized both his daughter and son were on track to earn their own degrees at the end of the fall 2018 semester.

“It started looking like, if everybody played their cards right, they would be graduating around the same time,” explains Christina. “So that motivated Tom. He really buckled down.”

During her time at UCF, Olivia changed her major, which added an extra semester of classwork to her graduation requirements. Tom, Sr., as it turned out, played a part in her December graduation. Olivia was able to serve as a research assistant for her father to earn the extra credits needed to stay on track. She did all this while working at the AdventHealth Lake Mary ER as a medical scribe. With her bachelor’s degree now in hand, Olivia will study Spanish in Guatemala and plans to attend graduate school to become a physician assistant.

Meanwhile, Simon was working full-time as a 4-H agent for a small county in rural Alabama, helping local kids in the 4-H after-school program. He pursued his master’s degree at Auburn by taking classes at night and via an online/virtual program. But with limited internet access in the area, Simon took to videoconferencing from his car during online sessions while searching for the best available WiFi. It was a frustrating process, but Simon realized that if he took a second class during each of his last two semesters, he too might be able to graduate with his dad and sister.

“Simon sped up his track so he could graduate at the same time,” says Christina. “It was if the stars were aligned. They all decided, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Finally, the graduation calendars at UCF and Auburn were published, and it was official. All three commencement ceremonies were set for the same weekend. There was only one problem.

Tom, Sr. was scheduled to walk on Friday morning, but both Olivia and Simon were slated to graduate on Saturday afternoon – Olivia in Orlando and Simon at Auburn.

“Simon considered walking but realized he wanted to support his dad and sister,” says Christina. “So Simon gave up walking. That’s just who he is. He put his family first.”

Family came from as far away as Utah to celebrate the graduates. Simon and his fiancée drove all night from Alabama, and Tom, Jr. flew in from Chicago.

“Tom [Jr.] was so proud of his dad and siblings,” says Christina. “Being firstborn, he did everything first. He got to step out of the spotlight and let his other siblings shine, and it was really great to see.”

The busy weekend culminated with Olivia’s graduation. As luck would have it, Tom Sr.’s students graduated during the same ceremony, which meant he didn’t have to miss a thing.

“Tom was able to wear his graduation gown along with his new Ph.D. hood, and he watched Olivia’s commencement ceremony from the second row with the rest of the professors,” beams Christina.

When Olivia received her diploma, she looked for her dad among the plethora of professors, but she couldn’t locate him.
“But when she exited the stage, he was standing there waiting,” says Christina, “so he got to give her a big hug as she walked by. I’m sure people were thinking, ‘Who is this girl, and how close is she with this professor?’ It was just amazing.”

The Carbone parents instilled in their kids at a very early age the essential importance of education, and their efforts have paid off in spades.

“I now have a picture of the three of them together in their caps and gowns, and that is huge to me,” Christina says. “It was so important to me that they each have a degree, so that they have that freedom and pride in being a successful professional. We pushed our children, and they are smart, driven kids.”

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