GARY STOVALL sat with the other beaming parents when his first two sons got their degrees. He'll have a much better seat this time.
He and his youngest son, Omar Stovall, 23, will graduate together from Cheyney University tomorrow. Omar will receive a bachelor's degree in communications. Gary Stovall's degree is in social relations.
The older Stovall brothers - Hakim, 30, who did his graduate and undergraduate work at Cheyney and Jamal, who got his degree in geographic information from Cheyney - and their sister Aliyah, a student at Community College, will all be beaming from the family seats.
Seated beside his wife, Lavera, with his chest poked out that day will be Samson Stovall, 77 - who is still taking college-level courses when he's not watching his children and grandchildren graduate.
"I have to give total credit to my dad," Gary said. "He has been a strong encouragement to all of us."
Samson Stovall got the education bug while working as an equipment operator at Container Corporation of America. A few decades later, he's still at it.
"I was a union representative," he said. "I'd go to meetings and they'd use words I didn't understand. So I got this book, '30 days to a powerful vocabulary.'
"I took labor courses at Penn State and St. Joe's. It just became a personal challenge. I started reading books and passing them on to my son."
Even with all the new words at his disposal, he was having trouble describing his feelings right now.
"Seeing them graduate together is overwhelming," Samson Stovall said. "I can't describe it."
Omar is as elated about his father's degree as he is about his own - elated, but not at all surprised.
"It's a joyous occasion," Omar said. "Truly a blessing for both of us, but even more for him. He worked a lot of late shifts to put us through school
"I'm not surprised. He always preached education to us. I know he wouldn't want to contradict himself.
"It's kind of a generational thing with my grandfather stressing education to him and then him to us. It's kind of a trickle-down thing."
For Gary Stovall, the graduation is a chance to finish something he should have started years earlier.
"I was recruited out of high school to play football in college," Gary Stovall said. "but I got caught up in the streets running with a gang.
"I tried to walk my children through that and let them know that I messed up. I wanted them to be focused on education, not live the type of life I did."
Gary's wife, Anita Stovall, is a prevention specialist at the Gaudenzia House, an in-patient drug rehabilitation program. She can't remember when they weren't putting money aside for tuitions.
"They started out at Christian Academy and then Wynnefield Academy, St. Ciprians," she recalled. "The money wasn't always there for other things.
"But it was worth it. We're an old-school family. We stayed on them and never had any problems.
"He always supported them. If it was positive, he was always there. I always knew he would go back when his time came. It was just his time."
If there is a recurrent theme with this family, it is that you don't sit around and admire your last accomplishment. Omar is studying for law school entrance exams.
Hakim is about to go after his Ph.D. and Jamal is finishing a masters' program at Temple.
Despite a stroke that cut short his course work at Community College, Samson Stovall is taking courses offered by Temple University's Association for Retired Persons - and reading everything he picks up.
Gary Stovall is pursuing a career in geriatrics, which may mean even more course work.
You'd think that would do it. But . . .
"We have a grandson," Anita Stovall said. "We're talking about trying to put aside some money for his education." *