Single mother and Hurricane Katrina Survivor Ayanna Tatum made sure her son’s graduation would be memorable, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

As social distancing has become the “new normal” this spring, a lot of meaningful life milestones, from bar mitzvahs to weddings, have had to be postponed or enjoyed in new ways.

Now, as the country’s high school and college seniors are in graduation season, many, if not all, will miss that special ceremony that marks their passage into. One family, though, got pretty creative. And the results were rather heartwarming.

From surviving Hurricane Katrina…

“I would like to introduce you to the Baylor class of 2020,” a voice said into a microphone. Derrick Williams heard it and was instantly intrigued. He had no idea his mom had been planning something.

“I was like ‘Oh, she’s up to something,'” said Williams, speaking of his mom Ayanna Tatum, a single mother, who brought her family to Houston from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

According to Williams, his mom was always trying to raise him right, and that included placing a big emphasis on education. And Derrick certainly did not fail to meet her hopes and dreams.

His mother, Ayanna has herself worked in education for 13 years and she put herself through college, stayed on campus with her two kids and eventually got her own master’s degree. And through all of this, her number one goal was to guarantee her children would make it too.

Words can’t express how proud I am of my son. We have come a long way from being Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Single mom, no family, out here raising them by myself and still having the vision that my children are not going to be a statistic.

Ayanna Tatum to ABC News

He made her proud so she made sure to celebrate him

At 22, Derrick was scheduled to graduate from Baylor this year with his pre-med psychology degree, but the ceremony was cancelled because of COVID-19. “I was a little disappointed. I mean, you expect to have your family and friends there, and to walk the stage,” he said.

His mother Ayanna found a way to celebrate Derrick’s graduation in the family’s backyard.

I thought my baby has worked so hard, and if there’s anything that I can do to celebrate his hard work.

Ayanna Tatum

In the backyard, there was a podium and a big banner, and it was done with a professional hand. Tatum’s friend, LaTosha Fraley, the owner of Blown Away Balloons and Treats, did the décor for free.

“Graduates, please take your seat,” an administrator said on the microphone. Derrick even wore his cap and gown, there was a commencement speech and a “quarantine diploma.” To him, this was just another proof of his mother’s powerful love.

It was a good moment for me to feel the overwhelming support and love that I have felt, basically, since I was a baby.

Derrick Williams

Derrick is heading to medical school at UT McGovern in Houston to become an orthopedic surgeon. For his mother, this small improvised backyard ceremony was more precious than anything else. “Honestly, this gave me more satisfaction than the actual graduation in Waco,” Ayanna said.

The heroism of survivors and mothers

There is a reason why the phrase “mother instinct” exists. Ayanna is one of the many mothers out there who have made enormous sacrifices for their children, working against social circumstances and obstacles to bring them the best life that they can.

Even if you don’t have children, or if your experience with your own mother was not ideal, we can all experience the sacrifices that mothers have made. In their efforts to give their children the very best, they also ensure that the next generation will be formed of better human beings.

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