Sunday, June 09, 2002


Graduation makes chefs of mother and son

        Imagine going to college with your mom. Not just going to the same school, but sitting in the same classes, working on the same degree.

        If you cut class, she knows it. If you don't study for a test, she knows it. You can't claim that math class is unbearably difficult because she's taking the same class.

        Wow. It's enough to make a guy, well, graduate.

        And Tommy Harris did graduate last August from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College with an associate's degree in Chef Technology. His mother, Emma Mae Wagoner, received the same degree the same day.

        After graduation, mother and son went their separate ways in the culinary profession — she cooks at the Children for Children Day Care Center at Children's Hospital. He works in the kitchen at Beckett Ridge Country Club in West Chester Township.

        Mother and son have performed so well in school and the work world, they each won more than $1,000 in cooking equipment Thursday as part of the “Tools for Success” program. Sponsored by Miller Brewing Co., Tools for Success recognizes deserving technical school graduates. The awards were presented to Mr. Harris, Ms. Wagoner and 23 other recipients during a ceremony at Cincinnati State.

[photo] Emma Mae Wagoner and Tommy Harris
| ZOOM |
        The day Mr. Harris decided to go to Cincinnati State, he asked his mother if she would go with him, mainly because he knew she wanted a college degree.

        “She didn't have to go to school to prove she was a good cook,” Mr. Harris says. “But I knew she needed that paper behind her to do her business.”

        For years, he heard his mother talk of her dream to own a catering business. This might help her, he decided.

        At age 42, Ms. Wagoner agreed to take the big step and go back to college because she thought her son needed support. As it turned out, Mr. Harris would've been fine on his own, but he admits his mother pushed him to be a better student.

        “I'm kind of laid back about school,” says Mr. Harris, who studied culinary arts while earning his GED from Diamond Oaks Career Development Campus in Dent. “But my mother is a book worm.”

        Says Ms. Wagoner: “I had been out of school for 24 years and I had a lot of cobwebs.”

        She worked them out. The math sometimes gave her fits, but Ms. Wagoner could handle the kitchen labs. She had been cooking since she was a child and loved it. A Cincinnati State instructor told her she had been cooking the “French” way most of her life. She just didn't know it.

        From the beginning, mother and son didn't want anyone to know they were related because they didn't seek special treatment. But because they shared the same home address in Mount Healthy — and probably a few mother-son moments — a few figured out their relationship. Or made bad assumptions.

        “Some people thought Tommy was my boyfriend,” Ms. Wagoner says, laughing. “That was embarrassing.”

        On graduation day, Ms. Wagoner cried in happiness for her son, and in joy for her own accomplishments. In case you're wondering, she finished with a 3.3 grade point average. Her son had a 2.7.

        Ms. Wagoner plans on using the money she won this week to buy equipment for her catering business. Although Mr. Harris wants to eventually work on a cruise ship, he's promised to help his mother get the business started.

        “It will be E & T Catering,” Ms. Wagoner says. “I'm the E and he's the T.”


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