Graduation Profile: A graduation ceremony 18 years in the making

Chelsea Sandy grad 2In the six years Cindy Sexton has organized the Department of Psychology’s graduation ceremony, she’s seen hundreds of students walk across the stage. This year, she’ll be focused on one student in particular. Her daughter will walk across the stage, marking the completion of her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Watching her own daughter graduate in a ceremony she organized is the culmination of 18 years of perseverance and determination.

Since her daughter, Chelsea Sandy, was 3 years old, Cindy has been saving $25 per paycheck to pay for Chelsea’s college education. At about the same time, Chelsea’s father died and Cindy began working for KU’s psychology department. Over the years, Cindy has worked her way up, from an entry-level position to the office manager. When Chelsea was ready to go college, it was an easy choice to go to KU and study in the psychology department, both of which had been like a second home to her most of her life.

With graduation just around the corner, we asked Chelsea and Cindy about their path to this momentous occasion.

How has your long-time familiarity with KU helped during the college journey?

Chelsea: It’s nice knowing the professors in the department. I’ve known a lot of them for a lot of my life. I know where everything is and I can walk around and feel confident for the most part here. My favorite KU memory is driving down Jayhawk Boulevard or looking at the skyline and knowing that someday that would be my alma mater. I love looking at all of the buildings and remembering what classes I took in them. I grew up in most of these buildings.

What did it take to get through college, balancing classes, work and family?

Cindy: She’s worked somewhere between 30 to 40 hours a week since she’s been in college. She’s literally always doing homework. She actually does a lot of other stuff on the side. She does baby-sitting, house-sitting, pet-sitting, house cleaning, chauffeur duties. She’s a personal assistant to somebody who needs help with different things. She also does apartment turnover cleaning in the summer. We’re industrious in our house.

Was there ever any question that Chelsea would go to college?

Cindy: I never let there be any doubt. And that’s the other thing about this. Statistically, she shouldn’t be successful. Coming from a one-parent household, by choice or not, especially with that trauma of her dad passing away. All of the odds have been against her. And she is doing it and she’s successful at it.

What’s your advice to other students?

Cindy: Save for college. And even when you’re in college, if you have money to put into the college account, keep doing it.

What are you most proud of?

Chelsea: Graduating (laughs). I feel like that’s the biggest accomplishment. It hasn’t taken me as long as it takes other people. But I think that’s the biggest part of it, that I’m actually doing it in four years. But it’s been really hard. It’s been a lot of extra hours, a lot of homework.  My mom has worked in the psychology department since I was three years old so I have literally grown up at the University of Kansas. I don’t remember the first time I walked into a building at KU but I will remember when I walk down the hill and graduate and I think that will be my fondest memory.

Cindy: Dean’s Honor Roll in the fall and the Joseph Petermann Memorial Scholarship. She was in 18 hours in the fall and she got five A’s and a B.

Chelsea Sandy and Cindy Sexton
Chelsea Sandy and her mother, Cindy Sexton, on a cruise last year in New Orleans. They’re taking another cruise to celebrate college graduation.

How are you going to celebrate?

Cindy: We’re going to Ft. Lauderdale for 2 ½ days and then we’re taking an eastern Caribbean cruise. We have been saving for and planning for months. We like to snorkel and you just can’t do that in Kansas. Our first cruise was when she graduated from high school. We met people and became friends with them. And they’re going to cruise with us again on this trip. It’s neat because you don’t expect to meet somebody that’s going to be lifelong friends. And they are so thrilled to see this girl graduate. There are people all over that are tied to us and watching her succeed.

Graduating in the Department of Psychology’s ceremony brings a lot of things full circle. How do you think you’ll feel up on stage?

Chelsea: I’ll probably cry but I’ll probably be really happy. I’ll get to relax for a few days.

Cindy: I organize that ceremony from start to finish. Every word they say, every step they take. I get to organize it and she’s going to walk in it this year. How many parents actually get to do that for their kids? My chairperson is actually going to put me in that faculty stage party, wearing regalia and she’s going to say why I’m up there, that I’m a longtime department employee and that I’m part of the stage party because my daughter’s graduating. It’s just so much more significant. It’s my ceremony that she’s going to be involved in. It’s pretty awesome. I just hope I can hold it together.