Robin Dennison wont physically be on campus when her daughter takes a masters degree during West Virginia Universitys 136 th Commencement Sunday (May 15).
But Joyce Dennison says she expects to feel the spiritual presence of her late mother walking with her as she picks up her diploma from the College of Human Resources and Education.
She had so much spirit and personality,the education major said of Robin, who died last year at 47 after a bravely battling lung cancer that was initially misdiagnosed as pneumonia.She was all about family. She and my father were all about making a good life for me, and for my brothers and my sister.
Every Commencement cap and gown has a storyand the story of the Dennison family of Jamaica, NYC , is one of love, and determination and togetherness, under the shadow of terrible loss.
My parents were in love,Joyce said.They are in love. My family was so very blessed.
Robin and Steven Dennison were childhood sweethearts who both lost parents at a young age. Robin was 12 when her mother died, and Steven lost his mother when he was 7 and his father when he was 15. He was in foster care for a time, during his remaining teen years.
The sting of those losses set the tone for Robin and Stevens household when they married 26 years ago. It wasnt long before they had children of their own: Joyce is the oldest, at 22, and Jamal came a year after that. Joshua, the third of the Dennison brood, is 16, and little sister Breonna, is 8.
As they considered the deaths of their own parents, Robin and Steven decided early on there would be no wasted days with their growing family. When they werent working to bring home paychecks, they were working to invest in their children, helping with homework and projects, and just creating fun-time with mom and dad.
It wasnt always easy, Joyce recalled.
The family struggled financially when I was little,she said.My father started out as an electrician, and he did join the union, but if you know anything about New York City, you know that they can lay you off just as quick as they can hire you.
Robin worked for a time as a nurses aide, but when she became pregnant with Joshua, she made an employment decision that didnt sit too well with her husband. She decided to become a corrections officer for the city, looking down the road at that jobs bigger paycheck and solid pension plan.
The doting mom who liked to cook and crochet found herself at New Yorks notorious Rikers Island, the nations largest penal colony just 11 miles from the torch of the Statue of Liberty, as the crow flies.
Around 15,000 inmates call Rikers home, at least until they transfer to other prisons upstate. Its 10 jails encompass an area half the size of Central Park.
It was a dangerous job,Joyce said.There were lockdowns and inmates dying in fights. Of course, my parents didnt tell me how dangerous the job was.
Robin eventually worked her way into a supervisory post in one of the kitchens at
the colony, which took away some of the menace.
Steven, meanwhile, was making his own professional destiny. In 1996, he plugged his savings into the formation of his own electrical contracting companyand Dennison Electric Corp., now has several commercial and residential clients, and a solid reputation, across Queens, Harlem and The Bronx.
Two years ago, Robin began wheezing and feeling short of breath. Doctors at first thought it was pneumonia.
My mother said, �€~Ive never had pneumonia, but I dont think it feels like this,Joyce recalled.The cancer moved really fast. I was down here in West Virginia, and I guess they didnt want to burden me with a lot. At first, I didnt know how sick she really was. I didnt know she had stopped eating, and that she was as thin as a skeleton.
We had a daughter who had to focus on school,Steven said.Thats what Robin wanted. Thats what I wanted. Towards the end, I had to put Robin in hospice care. I called Morgantown and said, �€~Joycie, I think it might be time. Youd better come home.
Joyce and her boyfriend drove through a snowstorm to get there at 3 a.m. Joyce sobbed as she kissed her mothers cheek and stroked her hair. The next day she was dead.
Robin was holding out for Joycie,Steven said, who then had to face life as a widower with four children and a demanding career.She waited for Joycie, then she let go.
For her part, Joyce says she wont let go for her parents, vowing to adhere to their example.
Shes no stranger to a 4.0 grade-point-average. She supervises 60 freshmen as a resident assistant at her dorm, Braxton Tower, and the students shes taught as an education major at Morgantowns Suncrest Middle School and Farmingtons North Marion High adore her.
Hey,she laughed,the first day in front of the class, Im nervous. The second day, were family.
Shes also very active in her church, Salvation Praise Ministry, which pleases her father to no end.
Joycies my angel,he said.When you have kids, its no longer about you. Its about them. Im proud of all my kids, but Im especially proud of Joycie right now. We helped her get down there, but shes the one who achieved.
After my mother passed, I came back to school but I didnt want to go to class,said Joyce, who is now pursuing teaching jobs in Maryland as she decides whether or not to work for a doctorate in higher education.
I think I slept for a week. But then I got up, and got back to teaching and sitting in class and doing all the things I was doing. I thought about my mother and father, and the sacrifices they made, and that kept me going. Were made to endure.