May 4, 2014 at 10:43 AM ET
When Heather Munsell is done cheering her two children as they get their college degrees this weekend, they will return the favor.
Munsell, 44, her son Joshua, 22, and daughter Kelsey, 20, will all receive degrees from Montana State University-Billings Saturday. Heather is getting a master's degree, while Joshua will receive bachelor's degrees in outdoor adventure leadership and organizational communication, and Kelsey is picking up a pair of degrees in mass communication and organizational communication.
"Who gets an opportunity like this?" Heather told TODAY.com. "For me to be part of it is pretty cool. I get to be the mom and take the pictures from the gallery like everyone else, and then get my degree."
"It's one of those things where we never saw it coming and didn't expect it until we saw how things might come together,'' Joshua said. "I never expected my mom to go back, but she always talked about it, and everything happened to work out. If I had taken one class differently, my graduation would've been this fall, so it was really serendipitous and really cool."
Heather and husband, Jeff, had both kids while she was still in college in the early 1990s. She left school just 13 credits shy of an undergraduate degree in the fine arts when Jeff got a job that required them to move. When her son was already in college and her daughter was getting set for her freshman year, Heather decided she wanted to finish what she started decades earlier.
"I wanted to check the box saying I graduated from college before my kids could,'' Heather said.
She finished her undergraduate degree during Kelsey's freshman year of college, then pursued the master's degree in public relations that she will receive this weekend.
So how did the timing work out? Kelsey was on a fast track, finishing high school a year and a half early, then completing both college degrees in three years instead of four. Because Kelsey never walked at her high school graduation, her first time will be a special one. Heather never walked when she earned her undergraduate degree, so this will be her first time at the college level as well.
Kelsey and Joshua will walk first with the undergrads; Heather will be in the next group of grad students. This will be Kelsey's first walk ever, and Heather's first college walk.
"I don't want to say walking is a huge deal, but I'm really excited,'' Kelsey said. "It's a momentous occasion, and I'm happy and thrilled I get to celebrate with family."
Though the family — who all finished school online because of a move to Seattle — never physically sat together in class, "We were all actually in the same classes a lot,'' Kelsey said. "We all had papers together, and we bounced ideas off each other. We would talk in the online forums and chat discussions for our classes and then be making comments to each other about what was going on because we were all sitting right next to one another in our house."
Making the weekend more extraordinary: The communications department named Kelsey and her mom the most outstanding undergraduate and graduate students.
"I'll be able to sit there and applaud both of them,'' Joshua said. "It's too exciting for words. My dad will be in the same boat I am, just super excited."
This updated story was originally published May 2 at 1:45 p.m. ET.