Family ties... to each other and to Rowan
For some grads, bonds to Rowan compliment bonds to one another.
Robert and Michelle Taclan, husband-and-wife grads
They know there will be plenty of times in the future when they will be apart. That’s one of the reasons that graduating together—as husband and wife—is especially sweet for Robert and Michelle Taclan of Pitman.
“It will be kind of like when we were at the altar,” Robert, 24, says of earning his bachelor’s degree in Spanish alongside his wife, Michelle, 22, who will accept degrees in Spanish and elementary education. “We’ll be just so happy to be together.”
Married June 5 of last year, the Taclans are preparing for a life of travel and military service. On Monday, May 14, Robert, currently a cadet in Rowan’s Army ROTC program, will be commissioned as an active duty officer in the U.S. Army. During the 10 a.m. ceremony in Rowan’s Eynon Ballroom, Michelle will pin on Robert’s Second Lieutenant gold bars. Soon after the ceremony, he’ll head to Virginia for training. In October, the Taclans will move to Fort Carson, Colo., where Robert will serve in the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division.
Michelle knew early in their relationship that Robert was “an Army guy.”
“He talked about being in the Army on our first date,” says Michelle, who views Robert’s commissioning ceremony as the “culminating event” on a memorable Rowan career. “I had to think, ‘Is this something I can commit to?’ I knew it was his job. I was just so drawn to him. I knew four months into dating that he was going to be my husband. I was 18.”
The term “Army strong” applies to Michelle, too, says Robert, who credits his wife with helping him find focus in his life and studies. Robert, who received Rowan’s Thomas E. Robinson Leadership Medallion, also was one of four University students to attain the final level of certification through the new Leadership Rowan program.
In 2010, he finished 36th in the nation—out of 5,600 cadets—in the Leadership Development Assessment Course, known as Operation Warrior Forge, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. The course is the capstone exercise on the way to becoming a U.S. Army lieutenant. Robert was company commander.
“When you become a leader, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. A lot of times, Michelle may be my only source of support. She’s very goal-oriented. She brings me such peace,” Robert says.
A Rowan love story
Robert and Michelle both will graduate magna cum laude. When they prepare to accept their undergraduate degrees on the University Green, Michelle says the event will be bittersweet. Rowan is a huge part of their love story, she says.
Though they’ve known each other since middle school in Egg Harbor Township, their love truly blossomed on Rowan’s campus. In fact, they say, some of their best dates—from seeing “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway to wrestling in inflatable sumo wrestler suits to salsa dancing to winning the game “Minute to Win It”—happened through Student University Programming and during Rowan After Hours, which offers students fun, engaging late-night programming Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights throughout the academic year.
They have other memories, too…of working in the same office as student workers, living near each other in residence halls, of spending hours upon hours eating in the Marketplace, of not sitting next to each other if they had the same classes together, which happened frequently, Michelle notes.
“We didn’t want our professors to think we weren’t paying attention,” laughs Michelle, who recently completed her student teaching with first-graders in Mantua’s Centre City Elementary School.
“We love that we came here as boyfriend and girlfriend…and we’re leaving as husband and wife.”
Mother-daughter grads Betty and Traci Kaighn
As proud as Elizabeth (Betty) Kaighn is of her daughter, Traci Kaighn might just be prouder of her mom. That’s how this mother-daughter duo rolls.
“I’m beyond words proud of her,” says Traci, 24, who will earn her bachelor’s degree in geography on the same day that her mom, Betty, 45, earns degrees in elementary education and American studies, with an endorsement in special education, from Rowan.
“We’re best friends,” says Traci, who was a nanny for four separate families to work her way through college. “She was a full-time mom, had a full-time job and went to school full-time. And now, her hard work has paid off.”
Betty has had an impact on children for more than 25 years. From age 18 on, she worked in a preschool in Lindenwold, where word quickly got out to the district’s child study team that she had a gift for working with kids with behavioral problems. Soon, those children were sent to the preschool, where they flourished under her care.
“At the preschool, I got really close to really troubled kids,” she says. “I’m very interested in every child.”
Being a teacher
Betty, who was married and had two children by age 23, dropped out of high school in her junior year, but quickly earned her GED, taking the test at then-Glassboro State College. A year later, she began her quest for her bachelor’s degree, taking one class a semester—when she could fit it in. In 2004, she earned her associate’s degree in early childhood education from Camden County College. That year, she began her Rowan studies.
A decade ago, she began working at the Bancroft School in Cherry Hill, where, she says, she absolutely found her calling working as a teacher’s aide for children with autism.
She knows her work already has had an impact on the lives of the children she’s served. But, she says, having that degree—being a teacher—means so much more.
“At Bancroft, I found what I was supposed to do,” says Betty, who will graduate summa cum laude and had a near-perfect score on the special education Praxis test.
“It is terrifying to do this now, at this age, especially when you already know you’re good at what you do. But wanting to be a teacher—to have my own classroom, to do things my own way—really pushed me.”
Her mother’s determination pushed Traci as well, she says.
“If she hadn’t been going to school all of these years, I might not be here,” says Traci, who, herself, is considering teaching in the future. “She doesn’t quit anything.”
Both Kaighns, Clementon residents, say their world has widened since coming to Rowan. Betty laughs that, despite living in South Jersey all of her life, she had never driven on Route 55 before enrolling in the University. Meanwhile, Traci’s geography studies—and her concentration in global issues—have opened her up to international exploration.
Through the department’s Rowan University Discovers Europe program, Traci traveled through France, Belgium and Germany. Now she’s looking at a number of opportunities—from applying for a Fulbright scholarship to working at a summer camp in Guam—as a way to see more of the world.
“I want to go to Australia, Ireland, the UK,” says Traci, a member of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the geography national honor society. “I want to see the poorest places in Africa. I’d board a plane tomorrow if I could.”
“She’s much more adventurous than I am…and much braver,” Betty says of Traci. “She’s ready to go out into the world.”
Betty is as well.
“My classmates who are traditional-age students have their life ahead of them. But in some ways, that’s happening for me, too…right now,” she says.
First, however, the dynamic mother-daughter pair has to navigate Commencement Day. Betty is hoping she’ll be able to accept her degree and then speed across campus in time to see Traci earn hers. It’s exciting—and fun—to graduate together, Traci says.
“The only thing that would have been better,” she says, “was if my mom had been a geography major.”