Graduation Profile: Father, daughter will walk down the Hill together

A KU degree 30 years in the making comes with an added bonus for Dan Mercer – the opportunity to graduate at the same time as his daughter, Maureen. 

Anne, Maureen and Dan Mercer
Dan Mercer (right) and his daughter Maureen (center) will graduate together this May. The timing was purely coincidental, they said. Also pictured is Anne Mercer, Dan’s wife and Maureen’s mother.

One winter several years ago, Dan Mercer visited the KU Bookstore at the Edwards Campus in search of some Jayhawk gear for Christmas gifts. What caught his eye, however, weren’t the logoed apparel and home-ware items. What he noticed were the brochures on degree programs at the Overland Park campus. He started thinking about his options for completing the KU degree he had started 30 years earlier in 1978.

“There’s nothing very dramatic. I didn’t drop out of school because of personal tragedy or hardship or anything. I was a crappy student, and I was very immature, and I was having a blast. So the fun was more important than the education at that point,” he said.

Now a little more than five years after he visited the bookstore for gifts, he’s receiving perhaps the ultimate Jayhawk gift: he’s completing his KU degree and will walk down the Hill at the same time as his daughter, Maureen.

“At one class a semester and a total of 11 classes and five and a half years later, here I am,” Dan said.

When they walk down the Hill, Dan will celebrate completion of a bachelor’s in English and Maureen, a master’s in social work. He took most of his classes at the KU Edwards Campus plus a few general education requirements at Johnson County Community College.

“It felt like something left undone,” Dan said of his degree. “I don’t like these loose threads hanging around. When I went into the (advisor) I thought I might have been a little bit closer than I was. … With any luck at all, I was going to be five years older at some point anyway and I could either have this under my belt or have this loose thread.”

The Mercer Family
The Mercer family is full of Jayhawk fans. Peter Mercer, left, is Maureen’s brother and also a KU alum.

Although the event is a momentous occasion for their family, the timing was purely coincidental. Maureen started at another university to study nursing, then transferred to KU to pursue her true passion of social work. The transfer added some time to her degree completion, yet she and her father didn’t realize they would graduate together until just a few months ago.

“We didn’t even really think about it until after the first of the year,” Dan said.

Dan and Maureen have never taken a class together, but they have frequently shared interesting discoveries from their classes.

“That’s one thing I think we have in common,” Maureen said. “I love learning about new things that I’ve never heard of before. I’ve had awesome professors at KU, too. They make it worthwhile.”

“I can honestly say that the eight classes I took at KU, I really enjoyed them all,” Dan said. “African-American literature was one of my favorites. She was the best teacher ever, Giselle Anatol.”

They’ve also relied on each other for motivation get through their last semester.

“At the start of this semester, I told her at the outset when I got my syllabus there were a total of eight things. When I got done with the eight things I would be completely done. So I’ll call her up and say, ‘I’ve got six things done!’ ”

“I said that today, ‘I’ve got three things,’ ” Maureen said.

After graduation, Dan will have more free time now that he won’t have to balance part-time coursework and his full-time job in Kansas City. When he retires a few years down the road, he’d like to use his degree to work as a substitute elementary school teacher. Maureen has a position through the summer at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City and is applying and interviewing for positions beyond that.

Anne Mercer, wife and mother of the two graduates, is clearly proud of their accomplishments and hopes their story could be the push other students might need to finish their education.

“I have my master’s degree, so education has always been important to me. So to see him at 56 getting his degree, I just think it’s an inspiring story. It’s never too late. I’m so proud of him,” Anne said. “And for her and knowing what her first year and a half of school was like and to come back and graduate with her master’s, I am just so encouraged and inspired. Never give up. You can do it.”