FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — It would have been special if the Collins family had just one graduate to celebrate this spring. It would have been thrilling if there had been two.

But there’s a bumper crop of accomplished graduates in the Hope Mills family this year: three women from three generations, graduating from two schools, all with honors.

“It is a milestone, indeed,” said a beaming Kathleen Collins, who’s one of them.

Collins, who’s 59, graduated magna cum laude from Fayetteville State this month with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Joining her was her 36-year-old daughter, Tori Collins-Newcombe, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. The family’s third diploma will be awarded June 6 to 18-year-old Nmyia Collins, Tori’s daughter, who will graduate from Massey Hill Classical High School near the top of her class.

The timing of the graduations was part chance and part plan.

But the three women said there was nothing accidental about the work and the will that it took to reach those diplomas.

Kathleen Collins spent 12 years in the Army, studied at several schools through her tours, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from a Georgia university in 2001 and worked in prisons for several years until a medical condition made that impossible. Now she has a second bachelor’s degree and plans to spend the next year getting her master’s degree in social work. She wants to use her education to work with soldiers, veterans and their families.

“My grandma has always been driven to do as much as she can, not just for herself but for all of us,” Nmyia said.

After spending years raising her children, Tori Collins-Newcombe decided to get her college degree and entered Fayetteville State alongside her mother. Somewhere along the way, she realized she could graduate at the same time as her mother – if she took an unusually heavy course load to get their timelines on the same schedule. She said she took 21 hours of courses in two consecutive semesters and nine hours over the summer just so she could graduate with her mother. It was worth it.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Collins-Newcombe said. “I will always cherish this – to be able to graduate with my mother and my daughter.”

Like her mother, she plans to get a master’s degree in social work and hopes to open a nonprofit program for underprivileged youth.

Nmyia plans to major in biology at Winston-Salem State with the aim of going to medical school and eventually becoming a neurosurgeon. Her career goal formed when she was in third grade and a teacher told her about the man who became the first African-American pediatric neurosurgeon. Nmyia said she hopes one day to work beside that doctor.

She said she has always aimed high because her grandmother and mother wouldn’t have allowed anything less.

Nmyia and her mother said they’ve taken to heart the example set by Kathleen Collins, along with the host of pithy sayings that she regularly trots out: “If I can accomplish it, you can accomplish it.” “If I can do it, you can do it better.” “You don’t necessarily have to run fast, you have to endure the race.” “To whom much is given, much is required.”

“Give your kids strength and motivate them,” Kathleen Collins said. “And lead by example.’”

Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com