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Darla Moore School of Business

  • Image of Leigh and Earl Smalley

A family affair

A mother and son graduate together from the Moore School

It isn’t unusual to see siblings graduate together. Hundreds, if not thousands, of USC siblings have graduated together over the years. But a mother and son graduating together is a bit more uncommon. Two recent Moore School graduates — a mother and son pair — walked the stage together at commencement this past May.

Mother Leigh Smalley (’93 USC hospitality, retail and tourism administration, ’23 PMBA) and son Earl “Jake” Smalley IV (’23 finance and real estate) began at USC in 2019, though her journey began six months before his.

Leigh graduated with a bachelor’s 30 years ago. She said she remembered wishing she could go right into an MBA program after undergrad but had to hit the ground running with “marketing Charleston hospitality projects through construction and creating a life with my husband.”

Shortly after Jake was born in 2001, Leigh started her own company tackling freelance marketing and management projects. After Leigh’s second son, Kade, was born in 2005, Leigh earned her real estate broker’s license and began to add real estate projects to her portfolio. 

“As my children got older, and I began to take on more multifaceted projects and spent time mentoring younger professionals, I could feel that old pull toward graduate work,” she said. “I looked at many other schools, but the reputation of the Moore School, the in-person classroom access for Professional MBA candidates in Charleston and continuing to be a Gamecock won out.”

For Jake, his journey to the Moore School was a bit more straightforward.

“With a family legacy at USC, I chose to continue it and elected the Moore School because of my interest in business,” he said. 

Leigh said that while she and her son would enroll at the same time and graduate together, she intentionally kept their higher education experiences separate.

“I tried to make sure that anytime I was in Columbia, I was in ‘mom-mode’ with Jake — engaging with his friends, paying for dinners out,” she said. “The meaningful parallel was most pronounced when people found out we were both enrolled and both going to graduate at the same time — that pride will stay with me for a long time.”

While Jake appreciated his mother’s efforts to create boundaries, he said he fondly looks back on their time at USC together.

“Though we weren't often both in the same building, being in the same school in spirit with my mom was encouraging for me and filled me with a sense of pride for the both of us,” he said. “She is someone I greatly look up to academically, and her continued pursuit of education really helped me make sense of my own journey.” 

Leigh and Jake knew for about a year that they would be graduating together. However, Leigh said it didn’t feel real to her until they each put on their graduation regalia.

“I tried not to embarrass him but had many moments of overwhelming emotion, mainly for my pride in him, his perseverance through the COVID-19 pandemic and the character he continuously displayed throughout college life,” Leigh added.

Jake said his mom was hesitant at first to share the stage with him because she didn’t want to distract from his moment. Jake said he was thrilled to share the moment with her.

“I am extremely proud of her for putting in the work that she has, and it was an honor for me to be recognized alongside her,” he said.

While Jake learned so much from his classroom experience, he also said his time outside his courses provided valuable lessons.

“The hands I've shaken and individuals I've been honored to learn from have shown me just how important one's network is in the business world,” Jake said. “I intend to continue growing on my own and making use of the skills I've learned at the Moore School.”

Leigh is currently in the process of wrapping up some small consulting projects and is “looking toward future projects that bring together my experiences in hospitality, real estate and project management.”

Moving forward, she said she would like to find some projects where she and Jake could collaborate. She also hopes to gain teaching experience and become an adjunct professor in the future.

Jake is currently working as an apprentice in a family trucking business and is beginning his own real estate investments. In the future, he aspires to own and operate a collection of businesses and properties in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. 

-Sydney Hankinson

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