A “we can do this” attitude should be the ethos of any good community college. Merced College does impressive work living that philosophy, and the proof can be found in what must be considered one of the biggest wins of the 2023 graduation season.
Carl Schwesinger, 47, father to twins Jacob and Jeremiah Schwesinger, both 18 and El Capitan High seniors, will all receive diplomas, one right after the other, at Merced College’s commencement on May 26.
“Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reaction,” Jeremiah said. “Like, ‘What? There’s three of them?!?’ That’s gonna be pretty funny.”
Thanks to the educational sorcery of dual enrollment—in which students can earn both college and high school credit for certain classes at the college—Jeremiah and Jacob will earn their associate degrees while also graduating from El Capitan on June 1.
“I would never have thought it was possible for all three of us to go to college at once,” Carl said. “The financial aid department walked me through everything. We took it one step at a time, and here we are.”
The COVID pandemic prevented the Schwesingers from being on campus together. But they took an English course and a statistics course together online, which meant they also could commiserate in the living room at home as they studied.
Creating a workable schedule with jobs, sports and family responsibilities for all, but not much social life for the boys, was the key task each semester.
There were other challenges. The brothers remember how hard they worked to convince people to let them take an animal nutrition class that was held during El Capitan’s first three periods on the Merced College campus.
“You have to be willing to convince your high school and the college that this is what you want,” Jacob said. “Sometimes it feels like they don’t want to work with you. I’d tell anyone who wants to do it to just fight through when it gets hard.”
As for Carl, he and Brandy, 48, became parents at a young age, so he missed going to college straight out of high school. He’s worked in public schools for the past 10 years, currently serving as Food Service Director in the Chowchilla Elementary School District.
Their daughters Hannah, now 25, and Kaitlyn, 22, took a few Merced College classes while in high school, setting the example for their younger brothers.
“My sister Kaitlyn told us to do it,” Jeremiah said. “She said she wished she had taken more college courses while she was in high school. So we started the summer before we started at El Cap.”
When the boys began their Merced College classes, Carl wanted in on that.
“I wanted my kids to go to college,” he said. “And I wanted to set a good example for them.”
Now, Carl will be receiving an A.A. in Psychology and an A.A. Social & Behavioral Sciences, and will complete transfer requirements for both with one summer course. Jacob and Jeremiah have earned AAT degrees in Animal Science.
While a growing number of local high school students have used convenient online courses to simultaneously earn an AA from Merced College and a high school diploma, the Schwesinger boys took an unusual path in doing it with a hands-on discipline like animal science.
Jacob and Jeremiah will be entering the U.S. Army Reserves to help pay to finish their bachelor’s degrees in animal science at Fresno State. Carl is also headed to Fresno State, where he will study communicative disorders en route to becoming a speech pathologist.
“The time we put into it with full-time jobs and a family, those are some of the sacrifices that my family made,” Carl said. “Being able to graduate together, to have that moment walking across the stage to get our diplomas together, we obviously had to work together to achieve it. It’s special.”