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A Family Affair: The Flanagans at Syracuse

Valerie Flanagan dreamed of a Syracuse University degree but passed away before it was completed. Now her family is living up to her legacy by getting degrees of their own.

Portrait of the Flanagan Family from left to right: Valerie, son Kemet High, great nephew Brendan Flanagan, and niece Angela Flanagan.
Left to right: Valerie Flanagan, her son Kemet High, great nephew Brendan Flanagan, and niece Angela Flanagan.

Valerie Flanagan had been away from school for 37 years when she made the decision to redirect her life by earning a college degree. She was working full time as a health care assistant, but envisioned a career as a social worker, teaching parenting skills to teenage mothers.  She enrolled in classes at Onondaga Community College and was awarded an associate degree in human services in May 2017. Her next step was to enroll at Syracuse University as a part-time student through University College . “Acquiring a degree at this point in my life when I am actually close to retirement requires passion and determination,” she said at the time. Tragically, Valerie Flanagan would never witness the fulfillment of her dream. She passed away last September after a brief illness.

The Flanagan family has an impressive history at Syracuse University. Valerie was proud of her family connections to the University, and wanted their story told. In a message to University College last April, she outlined her message. “Three generations of my family are attending college, have graduated, or are working at Syracuse University,” she said. “I think it’s a story that will inspire others to realize a college education is possible.

Following Mom’s advice

Valerie’s son, Kemet High, is currently enrolled in the master’s degree program in magazine, newspaper and online journalism at the Newhouse School of Public Communications , after graduating last year from the College of Arts and Sciences . “My mother was the kind of person who was adamant about making changes if she was unsatisfied with something, so her decision to return to school didn’t surprise me one bit,” Kemet says. “One of the things she always stressed to me and my sister was that knowledge is endless. Not just education, but knowledge . She was confident in her own wisdom, and anything she opted to do, she was going to get it done no matter how long it took.”

Kemet took his mother’s advice in the pursuit of his own education. “I opted to obtain my master’s to enhance my craft with a focus on the art of journalism,” he says. As an undergraduate at Syracuse, he made the most of every opportunity to expand his skillset. He did internships at Atlantic Records and Revolt TV, a digital cable music network founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs. He also interned at The Fader , a New York City magazine that covers music, style and culture. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and he was a founding member of Mixtape magazine , the University’s first and only magazine devoted to Hip Hop.

Building a better future

Angela Flanagan, Valerie’s niece, was the oldest of four children in a household where education was highly valued. All four earned bachelor’s degrees, and three went on to earn master’s degrees. Like her aunt, Angela was determined to finish her degree despite numerous real-life responsibilities. In 1996 she was a single mother to son Brendan, working at Newhouse as a production assistant. “I had the good fortune to get a job that provided tuition benefits for employees, so I enrolled as a part-time student through University College. It was a great start for a better future,” she says.

It took many years, and it wasn’t easy, but Angela persevered semester after semester. “Attending college as an adult can be intimidating,” she recalls, but she was focused on her son and wanted to be a role model for him. Flanagan completed her degree in 2002, and her good intentions have come to fruition. Brendan Flanagan is now enrolled at Syracuse University as a half-time student through University College. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to attend Syracuse University, and I’m looking forward to one day graduating and pursuing my career in psychology,” he says. He has a job working at Kinney Drugs while attending classes part time.  

Valerie Flanagan won’t be here to see her son earn his master’s degree or her nephew earn his bachelor’s, but her words resonate in the educational path they have chosen. “I see some very bright young minds being developed at Syracuse University,” Valerie said, “and I know they will make a difference in the world.”  

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was published on .

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