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"He's a really sweet kid and he works really, really hard so whatever I could do—whatever was in my power, whatever was in my budget—I was gonna do it.”

By Meghan Overdeep
June 03, 2020
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Ayanna Tatum wasn’t about to let her son Derrick Williams' graduation from Baylor University go by without a celebration.

When Williams' graduation was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the single mother of two decked out a stage in her Houston backyard and invited a small group of family and friends to celebrate his achievement.

"He's a really sweet kid and he works really, really hard so whatever I could do—whatever was in my power, whatever was in my budget—I was gonna do it," Tatum told Southern Living sister site People. "He deserved that, and so much more."

The 22-year-old psychology major graduated magna cum laude with a 3.943 GPA. He will begin medical school at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston this fall. He hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon one day in the near future.

"I felt so blessed to have had this happen," Williams added. "For me, graduation was always supposed to be about friends and family celebrating, and with the backyard ceremony, I got exactly that. It was more than enough as a substitute for the original graduation ceremony."

Through the years, Tatum says Williams "overcame a lot" of challenges. She moved him and his younger sister to Houston from the New Orleans area in 2005, for a better life after Hurricane Katrina. The family, who struggled financially, also endured a recent hardship in 2019, when Tatum's mother, who lived with them and was a "major influence" in her children's lives, died.

"My mom has always put my sister and me ahead of her own needs. I'd consider myself a mama's boy," Williams told People. "At times, it has felt like it was just me and her against the world. She is my biggest cheerleader and has been my rock. She has molded me into the person I am today, and I am so thankful for her."

Congrats to all!