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TWO DAUGHTERS CELEBRATING THEIR MOTHER, INSPIRING THOUSANDS

48 years after receiving a B.A. in Psychology from SVSU, Retired Judge Marylin E. Atkins delivered the commencement address for more than 1,000 students earning degrees from her alma mater. She shared the life lessons she learned from two of her SVSU professors.

Courage.

Boldness.

Discipline.

A “Just Do It” approach to life.

And simple but hard-hitting advice:

“Atkins women never give up.”

“Plan your work, and work your plan.”

These are some of the things our mother has shown us.

As writers, we live by the top rule of good writing:  “Show, don’t tell.”

That means don’t “tell” the reader that the heroine is working really hard to elevate her career with the goal of putting her two daughters through college just as her much-older husband retires.

Instead, “show” that this heroine is getting up early every morning to go to an important office job, then heading to law school at night, getting home after her kids are asleep, then spending her weekends – every weekend for three years – secluded under a pile of giant law books.  Then spending months studying for the Bar Exam, and passing on her first try.

Then realizing her goal of financing two University of Michigan educations for daughters.

This is the plan our mother conceived one Sunday morning when we were toddlers, playing on the floor while our 50-year-old father, Thomas Lee Atkins, was reading the newspaper. 

She was 22 years old, and had, just a few years before, defied the Catholic Church, her family, our father’s family, and the strict social conventions of the 1960s, by marrying a former Roman Catholic priest who was white and 25 years older.

They were rich in love, but poor in finances.

So she planned her work, and worked her plan, and mostly “showed” us by example, by osmosis, that discipline, sacrifice, integrity, and hard work are the formula for success.

She ultimately rose to become the longest-serving Chief Judge of Detroit’s 36th District Court.

She became our greatest role model… our biggest cheer leader… our best friend… our advisor… our mentor… an amazing, super fun and nurturing grandmother… and the boss lady we strive to emulate as Co-Creators of our business, Two Sisters Writing and Publishing.

Catherine and I write and publish books, and had the privilege of editing and publishing The Triumph of Rosemary: A Memoir, written by Judge Marylin E. Atkins.  The book chronicles and immortalizes the courageous love story and life that she shared with our father, who remains with us in spirit.

This literary tribute to our family’s legacy has inspired an immeasurably special Mother’s Day season, as the book provided the impetus for us to spend the week touring the three cities where our family lived as we grew up.  Here’s a quick recap:

1) We had a lovely, triple book signing at Book Beat Bookstore in Oak Park, Michigan, a utopic family community during the 1970s with recreation, diversity, and excellent education. 

2) We spoke at Okemos High School and had a triple book signing at Schuler Books in this city where the academic rigors of its excellent schools prepared us for the University of Michigan.  Three of our teachers, whom we hadn’t seen in decades, came to see us!

3) We accompanied our mother as she was the commencement speaker at two ceremonies at her alma mater, Saginaw Valley State University.  During her flawless addresses, in the silent arena, she shared with more than 1,000 graduates and thousands of their family members that she had persevered past many obstacles to achieve her personal and professional goals.  University leaders, faculty, parents, and students shared an outpouring a praise with our mother, calling her speech inspiring, phenomenal, and encouraging.

Throughout the course of our four-day tour across our home state, we laughed, wined and dined on delicious food, drove past our beloved house in Okemos and the vacant lot where our Saginaw home once stood.  We stayed in hotels, were treated to dinners and receptions, and had a unique and unforgettable time as Two Daughters Celebrating Our Mother.

We were steadily shooting pictures and video of her educational pinnacle as the commencement speaker at the school that enabled her as a 22-year-old mother to begin the upward trajectory that led to making a powerful impact on the world as a judge.

Her impact also included raising us and defying that question that interracial couples always get, “What about the children?” with the assumption that we would be “tragic mulattoes.”

Well her book has the word “Triumph” in the title because she succeeded against many odds, and raised two daughters who are emulating her example of courage, boldness, discipline, and a “Just Do It” approach to life.

When things don’t work out, we remember that “Atkins women never give up.”

However, on this Mother’s Day, we must break the top rule of good writing:  “Show, don’t tell.”

Yes, we “showed” through words the wonderful celebrations that we enjoyed with our mother over the past week.

But we can’t “tell” you how we feel.

Because even though we are professional writers with expansive vocabularies and streams of sentences swirling in our minds, we lack the words to quantify the love, admiration, and awe that we share for our mother, Marylin Elnora Atkins.

(c) 2018 Elizabeth Ann Atkins

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Who delivered your commencement address? What life lessons have stayed with you? We'd love to hear what you think of our mother's speech, too! 

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