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Nigeria Gwinn and her dad Carmond Gwinn inspire each other to go to college

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right Father's Day gift for dad. But this year, Nigeria Gwinn was able to share something with her father that most daughters never do.

Graduation day.

On Monday, May 7, 21-year-old Nigeria and her father, Carmond Gwinn, 46, received their diplomas from Columbus State University. Nigeria earned her degree in criminal justice, while Carmond earned his in sociology. Both also want to pursue advanced degrees in social work -- Nigeria wants to work with youth, while Carmond wants to work with wounded soldiers -- though Carmond said he needs to take a break first.

Having served in the U.S. Army and remaining a member of the Army Reserves, "my education was prolonged because of missions and things I had to do so I always set it on the back burner," he said. "But I set it so far on the back burner, (behind) taking care of my family and making sure they were straight, that it kind of lined up so that I was able to graduate with (Nigeria)," his middle of three daughters.

Carmond took his first college course in 1983 -- 29 years ago -- and since Nigeria completed her degree in less than four years he jokes that "she was like the hare and I was a tortoise, but I finally caught up with her."

He added that she led by example by being very focused on her studies, which helped him stay on track.

"I think I motivated him by going to school," Nigeria said. "But he also motivated me by taking care of his family and being loving and supportive. So I saw that and it's something I would like one day."

Though some people asked Nigeria if she was upset about sharing the graduation spotlight -- and the gifts -- with her dad, she said she was just excited that he was graduating and happy to be able to sit next to him at graduation.

"It's exciting," she said. "It's something I thought wouldn't happen, but after he was like, 'This is my last semester,' I was like, 'Oh my God, I get to graduate with my dad!' "

Mother and wife Deborah Gwinn is also exceptionally excited because she's seen both her husband and her daughter work hard to get to this point in their lives.

"He missed a lot of (our daughters') things growing up," said Deborah, referring to his time spent in the military. "So to me, it's really sweet to have all of us together at one time."

As a Master Sgt. in the Army Reserves, Carmond serves as a career counselor, advising young soldiers how to use the money that the Army offers to help pay for college. Now he can use himself as an example.

"I always say that you never get anywhere in life by yourself. There was a support staff behind me," Carmond said. "There was my family, my faith, the Army reserves and my employer on Fort Benning (Tiya/Shaw Infrastructure)," who allowed him the flexibility to take the classes he needed to take.

"For me it's great because I'm watching my whole family, as they say, blow up," said Deborah, noting that their oldest daughter will graduate from CSU this summer and their youngest graduated from Central High School in May. "I'm watching them all do what they want to do."