Single Houston mom gives Baylor graduate at-home graduation ceremony

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing people to celebrate milestones in some very creative and unconventional ways.

"I would like to introduce you to the Baylor class of 2020," said a lady on the microphone.

It wasn't the typical graduation Derrick Williams was expecting, but certainly one he'll never forget.

"I was like 'Oh, she's up to something,'" said Williams.

Derrick is his mom's pride and joy. Ayanna Tatum, a single mother, brought her family to Houston from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She was determined to raise a good boy, with a good education.

"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, " she said.

Derrick, now 22, was supposed to graduate from Baylor this year after earning his pre-med psychology degree, but the pandemic put a halt to an in-person graduation.

"I was a little disappointed. I mean, you expect to have your family and friends there, and to walk the stage," he said.

Tatum decided to give Derrick his own graduation right 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," she said.

"Graduates, please take your seat," an administrator said on the microphone.

The backyard was transformed. There was a podium and a big banner.

Tatum's friend, LaTosha Fraley, the owner of Blown Away Balloons and Treats, did the décor for free.

Derrick was all dressed up in his cap and gown. You could hear the screams and cheers from close family members and friends. There was a commencement speech and a "quarantine diploma."

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

He is heading to medical school at UT McGovern in Houston to become an orthopedic surgeon.

"Honestly, this gave me more satisfaction than the actual graduation in Waco," Tatum said.

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