Every individual who graduates from Clayton State University has a unique story. Sometimes, that story is dramatic as well as unique. In fact, sometimes it’s a story that a published novelist wouldn’t dream of writing.
Saturday morning, Dec. 13, 2014. It’s just prior to noon and the graduates for the day’s second Commencement ceremony are filing out of the front of Clayton State’s James M. Baker University Center, making the journey to the Athletics Center to receive their diplomas. As the last group of graduates from the College of Arts & Sciences, those individuals receiving Associate’s Degrees, leave the building, a moment of drama happens as a young man in full U.S. Navy uniform steps forward and embraces one of the graduates.
Now, individuals embracing graduates is a common site at Commencement. Happens all the time, at every ceremony. But, this time, it is a truly special occasion. The sailor is LS 2, E5 Brandon J. Brown, stationed in Norfolk, Va., and the graduate is his mother, Lisa M. Comrie of Rex, Ga., an accomplished journalist, communicator and author, who is about the receive her Associate of Arts in Integrative Studies.
While even the mother/son embrace is not unusual at a Clayton State graduation, since the average age of the Clayton State student body is 28 and a large number of non-traditional students “walk” in every graduation ceremony, there wasn’t a dry eye in the line of graduates. (For that matter, most of the Clayton State administrators who would lead the forthcoming ceremony, and who knew about Brown’s presence, were also outside watching.) Comrie had no idea her son would be able to journey from Norfolk to Morrow for the ceremony, and, as a result, he gave his mother likely the biggest surprise of an already-eventful life, that has indeed included a published novel.
In fact, Brown had long-before told Comrie that he couldn’t make the ceremony, and had even phoned her that morning, to wish her well. However, “once I knew the date, and how special it was to her, I bought a plane ticket,” says Brown, who stayed in Marietta, Ga., during the bulk of his 72-hour special liberty, to make sure the surprise was indeed a surprise. “I told her I couldn’t make it. It took two months of preparation.”
Both mother and son are as special as Brown’s surprise. Comrie started at Clayton State in 2010, and, after getting her A.A. on Saturday, is continuing to get her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies with a minor in Corporate Communications, with Dr. LaJuan Simpson-Wilkey, Professor of English and chair, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, as her advisor.
“I’ve already registered for next semester,” she says.
Comrie is an example of a non-traditional Clayton State student who is finishing her degree to aid in her professional life. A journalist of 30 years experience who wrote and edited for, among others, Jennifer Parker, editor/publisher of the DeKalb CrossRoads News, she has also been working for the DeKalb County Government for the past 19 years, originally in the Public Safety Office and now in the Finance Department.
However, murder mystery fans may know Comrie better from her venture into creative writing, as the author of “Jackpot When Life is at Risk,” the first of a three-part series of murder mysteries (www.jackpotseries.com) that was published on Dec. 12, 2012.
“I’m working on editing the second book,” she says. “But college classes also take a lot of time.”
While Comrie has a following in the literary world, there’s no doubt that her biggest fan is in Norfolk, in the U.S. Navy… where he had to return the day after the ceremony. There could be no doubt of that after watching Brown cheer for his “mama” during Commencement. A Navy veteran of six years who has served in France, Portugal, Dubai and Bahrain, Brown is also a creative talent, a music major graduate of Valdosta State University who has played the trumpet for nine years, including as the first chair in the U.S. Navy Band.
And, he also knows how to orchestrate a great surprise, maybe even a dream made real for another special person.