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Going to class with Mom: Two students embrace family ties

Shelly Braxton and her daughters on the Quad

Shelly Braxton and her daughters, Alyx, left, and Ashley Kennedy.

Shelly Braxton and her daughters, Alyx and Ashley Kennedy, aren’t just family. They’re classmates.

All three women attend Illinois State as students, supporting each other through the academic demands of college life. Braxton and Alyx, above right, have taken two courses together, and Ashley and her mother are taking a class together this fall.

“I was in school when I had Alyx and so I stopped going to school and took care of her, and then I had Ashley and life happens,” said Braxton, business manager and fiscal agent for Illinois State’s Office of Parking and Transportation. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I just really hadn’t had the time being a single mom and raising two daughters who were very active.”

So Braxton, now a psychology major, went back to school once Alyx began college, leaving her more time to focus on her own academic goals. Alyx, a senior history education major, decided to transfer to Illinois State after her freshman year, and Ashley, a sophomore nursing major, joined Illinois State as a freshman. Since then, the three women have bonded even more through their shared experiences at the University.

Braxton and Alyx took the same History of East Asia course by accident, but both enjoyed their time in the class together.

“We would do study guides together,” said Alyx. “We would type up our notes together and we quizzed each other.”

“It was fun to have a partner in crime in that manner,” said Braxton.

After that, the two decided to take Adolescent Psychology.

“I would edit her papers and she’d edit my papers so we got good quality feedback,” said Braxton. “Sometimes a classmate might not feel comfortable giving you feedback because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but we’re comfortable with each other and we know what each other can handle on criticisms and that was fun.”

‘Nice to have a buddy’

Both daughters live with Braxton, furthering their support and bonding both at home and on campus.

“We can help each other work on our homework and not distract each other and know that it’s time to settle down and do our own work,” said Ashley. “It’s nice to have a buddy to do that with. It’s just like having another friend with me.”

“Yeah, I love it,” added Alyx. “It helped my transition into school. Just living at home and having my mom—she had already worked here—so since I didn’t know anyone it was helpful to have her be able to tell me where to go and what to do.

“We’re all in the same boat. We all have our time where we need to sit down and study and Mom will understand if we can’t go out to eat, or we can’t do something because we all have homework we have to do.”

Having common ties at the University has brought them closer together than ever, and has allowed Braxton to set the same goal for herself as well as her daughters.

“As a parent you want to set a high example for your kids, and I was disappointed that I hadn’t finished my college career because I wanted them beyond that,” said Braxton. “So being here with them I feel like we’re emulating each other. We’re all reaching for that height together. It’s definitely brought us even closer.”

“That’s true,” Alyx responded, “because I get so stressed out that it’s nice to just have people to talk to that are my family and my friends.”

“And we understand because we’re all going through the same thing,” said Ashley.

The three women are planning to live together through the rest of their time in school. Braxton couldn’t be happier with her daughters’ success at the college level and her daughters are cheering her on as well. A unique situation, Illinois State has remained a source for their already thriving relationship, giving them even more fond memories to share for the rest of their lives.

“It’s definitely brought us even closer. They’re really smart girls, and I’ve always been proud of them,” said Braxton. “They’re just super-performing here at college. They raise my bar.”

Brooke Burns can be reached at