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Stephanie (left) and Arielle (middle) earned their bachelor’s degrees in Latin American and Latino Studies and Anthropology, respectively. (Photo from Stephanie Pierson)

Stephanie Pierson and her daughter Arielle Pierson graduated together with high honors from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies at Penn’s first-ever virtual commencement ceremony on May 18.

Stephanie Pierson matriculated to Penn in 2007, followed by her daughter Arielle Pierson in 2015. 

When Stephanie Pierson realized they were on track to graduate at a similar time, she delayed certain requirements such as the freshman writing seminar in order to stall her graduation to match her daughter's. Stephanie and Arielle Pierson graduated summa cum laude and earned their bachelor’s degrees in Latin American and Latino Studies and Anthropology, respectively. 

The mother-daughter pair identify as first-generation, low-income students, and said their journeys to graduating from Penn were unconventional. 

Stephanie Pierson attended college for two years before dropping out when Arielle Pierson was born. She started school again through LPS when her daughter was in high school, taking a few classes at a time while balancing motherhood with a newborn. 

Stephanie Pierson said she wouldn’t have ended up at Penn if she didn’t initially drop out of college to raise her daughter. 

Both Stephanie and Arielle Pierson wrote their admissions essays about each other when applying to Penn.

Arielle Pierson said she chose to study anthropology at the University because her mother used to take her to the Penn Museum as a child. During her time as a Penn student, Arielle Pierson worked on the Smith Creek Archeological Project as a lab director and teacher’s assistant at the Penn Museum.

Stephanie Pierson said she and her daughter were motivated to pursue bachelor's degrees because of Stephanie's father, who supported her throughout single motherhood and passed away while she was a student at Penn. Before he passed away, Arielle Pierson promised him she would complete her college degree.

Arielle Pierson said she experienced a lot of different types of education and felt confined by traditional high schools, as she spent the majority of her childhood being home-schooled or moving from school to school.

“When I started my senior year, they gave me a reading list for my English class and I had already done all those readings as a homeschooler,” Arielle Pierson said. “I really was not motivated.”

She said her mother encouraged her to start taking classes at her local community college during her senior year of high school, leading her to drop out of high school and sub-matriculate as a full-time community college student. While her mother was studying at Penn, Arielle Pierson received her associate’s degree.

At community college, Arielle Pierson was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society for two-year colleges. Her mother then suggested she finish her bachelor’s degree at Penn, pointing out the University offered a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship through the LPS program.

Stephanie Pierson’s father paid for her first few classes before she earned a Bread Upon the Water Scholarship for female students over the age of 30. The Piersons' combined scholarships ultimately covered their part-time University tuition and allowed them to graduate without taking out loans.

Upon graduating, Stephanie Pierson sub-matriculated to the School of Social Policy & Practice and will receive her master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership next year. Arielle Pierson was hired as a paralegal at an immigration law firm and plans on applying to Penn Law School this summer to practice immigration law and cultural heritage protection. 

Arielle Pierson said she is thankful for the opportunities the LPS program provides to students with unconventional educational backgrounds, and for the opportunity to attend Penn and become integrated with the rest of the University's undergraduate population. 

“The people I’ve met in LPS have the most incredible stories and diverse backgrounds,” she said.

The Piersons placed “Save LPS” on their graduation slides, referring to the decision the University made to replace LPS with an entirely online program. 

“It was the best to be able to interact with everyone — from 18-year-old freshmen to 40-year-old LPS students — in my classes,” Stephanie Pierson said. “It’s just really sad that won’t be an option anymore.”