Father, son graduating UC

sjansen@mercedsunstar.comMay 20, 2013 

— David Brantley was running out of room on his desk at home so he added an extension.

The left side of the desk was designated for his photography business. The right side is where his school work piled up.

Brantley, 60, of Merced has spent countless hours at that desk the past three years as he ran his own business while working toward his anthropology degree at UC Merced.

"He has stuff spread out all over," wife Dana said. "It was like, just close the door and nobody go in there."

The desk may soon become a little less cluttered after this weekend. On Sunday, Brantley will become the oldest graduate from UC Merced.

Oddly, Brantley will be wearing a lightly used graduation gown.

That's because his son, also named David, 23, will be wearing the same gown Saturday when he receives his bachelor of arts degree in physics from UC Merced.

One of the benefits when you have a father and son graduating from the same university on the same weekend is you can get away with only buying one graduation gown.

"It's pretty awesome," said the younger Brantley, who along with his father will be graduating with honors. "It's like seeing your dad grow up with you. You have this idea that your dad is done with all the learning, and then you see him go to school and get a degree with you."

Graduating from college in 2013 wasn't what the elder Brantley had in mind when he started out at Santa Barbara City College 35 years ago, receiving an associate of arts degree in marine biology.

Brantley soon started his career as a photographer, eventually owning his own business — David Brantley Photography. At one point he was shooting 60 weddings per year.

But when the latest recession hit, his business slowed.

That's when he decided it might be time to go back to school.

"I was like OK, hmmm, let's see, what about bills, food and gas," Dana said. "We had to budget, but I think it was a good thing. We just made it work. It can be done. We thought it would benefit everyone in the long run."

When the older Brantley showed up in classes on the UC Merced campus three years ago, he was asked more than once if he was the professor.

College wasn't what he remembered from his Santa Barbara days.

"I'm a pencil and paper guy," he said. "These kids are emailing in assignments. Everything is online. I remember coming home with my first syllabus thinking, what did I get myself into?

"I leaned on my son and daughters. There were three or four students who helped me. They showed me how to attach stuff to emails, how to do PowerPoints."

He had to adapt.

His return to school started with one class at Merced College. Soon he found a love in archeology.

When he found out most of his units he earned at Santa Barbara City College would transfer, he ended up at UC Merced in the summer of 2010. That's when he went all in to become a student again, working the rest of his life around his college schedule.

"I've had a very supportive family," the elder Brantley said. "My wife has been great. If the kids need a ride to school, she'll take them or bring them back. She's sacrificed a lot. My other kids have been great, too. They understand that dad can't do something right now because he has a term paper.

"I stayed up late a lot. Photography has a deadline. The real world has deadlines. School doesn't care that it's wedding season. Anthropology is a ton of reading. You have to read a lot of research. You have to know how to read it and make assessments.

"A lot of times I would come home from school, put the books down and pick up the camera and go do a job."

His son joined him on campus in 2011. The younger Brantley had attended UC Santa Barbara for three years after graduating from high school in 2007.

After taking a year off, he resumed his pursuit of his physics degree at UC Merced.

"It was definitely an interesting conversation starter. I'd be sitting in the cafe at lunch with some friends and my dad would pop up out of nowhere," he said. "I'd tell them he's my dad. My friends would ask, 'He goes to school too?'

"My friends were really cool with it. A lot of them are 18, 19 years old, coming straight from home where their dads are entrenched in their careers. Here's my dad sitting at lunch with us. It's a total mind warp."

The younger Brantley had his own challenges in going to college, including helping raise his soon-to-be 2-year-old son, Dylan. Often he brought Dylan to the Early Children Education Center on the UC Merced campus.

"The main thing was managing my time, really," said the younger Brantley, who has been accepted into graduate school at William and Mary College in Virginia. "I learned how to maximize my productivity output each hour. I only had a limited number of hours to work with.

"I didn't want to just focus on myself. I wanted to be able to play and spend time with Dylan, too. I would push myself to do both. It led to some late nights," he said.

Whenever his course workload seemed too tough, he only needed to look at his father for inspiration.

"It's not just that he wasn't afraid to go back to school. It's that he's succeeded at it. He's kept at it and has never given up. He's been a big inspiration. My dad has always been a big education guy. He's always stressed that to me growing up. This was him putting his money where his mouth is.

"I tell him I'm extra proud that he still had enough brain cells to do this," the younger Brantley said. "It all honesty, it's pretty amazing."

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