PROVO — Take a moment and examine a couple of the photos attached to this article.
In one, a 20-something Sheri Lawrence is snuggling with her newborn baby boy. The little one sports a full head of dark hair and sucks contentedly on his pacifier.
In the second and far more recent photo, a young man towers over Lawrence, now 48. They’re both wearing Brigham Young University graduation caps and gowns and the tall one has a familiar head of dark hair.
No sign of the pacifier.
But the backstory connecting the two mother-and-son photos — taken decades apart — champions family support and sacrifice, commitment to lifelong education and holding tight to personal goals.
In 1994, the Canadian-born Sheri Lawrence was two years into her college studies at BYU when she found out she was expecting her second child. She already had a little girl — and her husband, Eric, was also in college.
“We didn’t feel like we could afford to have two children and for both of us go to school at the same time,” she said.
The couple also planned to have additional children with little time between each delivery, allowing for the siblings to be close in age. So she dropped out of college.
But her goal to claim a college degree remained resolute.
“I told everyone, ‘Once our last child is in preschool, I’m going back to school.’”
Five more Lawrence children would arrive after Blake. Sheri focused on helping with their homework, Church assignments and other duties.
Raising a family of seven children offers scant time for penning college essays and cramming for finals. Still, she was determined to honor her word.
In 2012, Sheri Lawrence re-enrolled at BYU with a two-pronged objective: first, to earn her bachelor’s degree. And second, to graduate at the same time as Blake, who was finishing his graduate studies in accounting.
“I wanted to graduate with Blake because he’s the kid I quit school for,” she said with a laugh. “I decided I’d walk across that stage at convocation with him.”
Sheri Lawrence proved a woman of her word.
Several members of the Lawrence family cheered for Blake when his name was read at BYU’s recent business school convocation. But, perhaps appropriately, his mother’s name was read first. (Sheri graduated with a degree in general studies with an emphasis in family life — but she joined Blake at his convocation ceremony.)
Blake is “happy to take the blame” for his mother's circuitous, 28-year route to a college degree.
“I’ve learned a lot about perseverance knowing she was taking college classes even while raising a big family,” he said.
A Minnesota resident, Sheri Lawrence resumed her BYU studies via the school’s online Independent Study.
Don’t confuse “home study” with “easy.” She still had five children living at home when she returned to college. Sometimes, family circumstances allowed her to take several classes. Other times, she opted to take a semester or two off.
“It was hard; it was sometimes difficult to stay motivated,” she said. “But my goal was walking across the stage with Blake.”
She also wanted her children to witness her joy in doing hard things and pursuing worthwhile goals.
“I wanted my kids to see how my husband supported me in something that I wanted to do. And I wanted to be an example to them. I always tell my kids how important education is — how could I not get my own education?”
She is grateful that BYU supports both her family and her non-traditional educational pursuits. Family finance and math classes were highlights of her studies.
So what’s next for the mother of seven?
She doesn’t plan to jump into the workforce, “but my kids know how I feel about education; I wanted to make sure I was walking the walk.”
Eric and Sheri Lawrence remain BYU “parents.” All four of their college-age children have attended the Church-owned school.