Father, Son Graduate Together with Same Degrees

COLUMBUS, Ga. - During the past few years, Columbus father and son business partners Al and Buster Barber have accomplished more together than just operating Barber’s Driving School.

The pair also has been studying — frequently as classmates — as Columbus State University business undergraduates and will graduate together during the university’s first of two commencement ceremonies, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 in the Lumpkin Center. The afternoon ceremony will begin at 3 p.m.

For Al Barber, 51, this shared milestone carries extra meaning. “In 1978, I watched from the seats of the old Columbus auditorium as my dad and older brother graduated together from Columbus College,” he said.

His father, B.C. Barber, who in 1964 founded the family business, then AAA Driving School, was a full-time police officer and had completed his criminal justice degree. Meanwhile, Brad received a chemistry degree, while his wife, Joanie, also crossed the stage in the same ceremony for her associate degree in dental hygiene.

B.C. passed away earlier this year. However, Brad and Joanie will travel to Columbus State for Saturday’s ceremony from Conyers, where Brad operates Georgia Driving Academy, Inc.

Al, Buster BarberAl’s higher education experience started briefly in 1977 as he enrolled and dropped out of Columbus College. “I was newly married and my daughter, Truett, had just been born,” he said. “Going to school at thetime was just too overwhelming.”

Instead of college, Al opted to help run the driving school and carved out a successful career. But in 2004, he realized he had “missed out on something.”

Initially, he was persuading Buster, who similarly enrolled and dropped out from Auburn in 1997, to re-enter college and pursue a degree from Columbus State. “It occurred to me that I hadn’t set a good example, so I told him ‘we’ll do this together,’” Al said.

The Barbers approached the endeavor truly as a team. “We took classes together, but we also staggered our schedules enough to make sure we had things covered here” — at the driving school, where Al is president and Buster, as vice president, oversees day-to-day operations.

Four years later, Al, who graduates summa cum laude in business administration, describes his Columbus State education as invaluable.

“Going in with the success I had in business, I was surprised by how the curriculum challenged me,” he said. “But what really struck me was realizing that this is a first-class business college that makes CSU a real asset to the community, and in my opinion, you couldn’t get a better education anywhere else. You have a (Center for Commerce and Technology) with state-of-the-art classrooms and incredible professors, who bring expertise from around the world.”

Moreover, Al said his college experience made him feel “young again” and brought several new friendships, particularly among the faculty. “I even snorkeled and swam with dolphins” during a 2005 biology study abroad trip to the Bahamas.

“Being a CSU student was rewarding and has given me a new appreciation for the university — especially for how it supports nontraditional students,” he concluded, while proudly noting two of his key employees are Columbus State students: administrative assistant and English major Kayla Whiticker and instructor and MBA student Yvonne Bryant, who also holds a Columbus State finance degree.

Similar to his father, Buster is finishing his general business-marketing degree with a 3.0 GPA and describes taking with him a rich academic experience, from geology field study at Flat Rock Park and “fascinating organizational behavior courses” to a worldly-diverse student body and faculty that “gave me an international experience without doing a study abroad trip.”

But more pragmatically than his father, he also said “I’m just glad it’s about over,” referring to balancing business and school responsibilities with his young family — wife, Stefanie and infant son, Caden Blaze. “I have to credit him,” Buster said, referring to his father. “He’s motivated me to jump into this full-time and see it through.”

For the first time, Columbus State will produce and make available DVD copies of the graduation ceremonies. Copies will be a sold through the university’s Center for Quality and Learning. For more information, call 706-565-3645 or go to http://graduation.colstate.edu/.