Justine Tinnin was supposed to walk across the stage at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. on Saturday to receive her bachelor’s degree.
She was a sociology major who grew up in Baltimore’s Edmondson Village neighborhood and was an active student on campus. She balanced gospel choir practice, a job at the school’s cafeteria, and responsibilities as a resident assistant, a service sorority member, and as a mother to a 1-year-old girl named Camille.
“She was planning to walk across the stage with her baby to show strength to other young moms to encourage them to see their dreams and visions through,” Justine’s mother, Linda Case, told ABC2.
“Justine worked so hard for this degree and she always was hitting the midnight oil every time I’d call her," she said.
Just weeks before donning her cap and gown, and one month before her 22nd birthday, Justine was rushed to University of Maryland Shock Trauma after having a seizure.
Doctors told Justine’s mother that she’d suffered two cardiac arrests, brain swelling and blood clots as a result. She died three days later on March 18 at 5:29 p.m. surrounded by family and friends.
“It was every mom’s nightmare,” Case said.
Following Justine’s death, the McDaniel school community came together to give back to Justine. A standing room-only vigil was held in the school chapel. To raise money for baby Camille, classmates sold bracelets inked with the phrase “My Crown Never Tilts,” and also sold buttons with a photograph of Justine smiling. The Black Student Union dedicated its annual black tie event in Justine’s honor, pulling in more than $1,000 in money raised by students.
“It was devastating for many of our students,” said Beth Gerl, Vice President of Student Affairs. “It’s a close-knit, small campus and Justine was very active and involved. She touched a lot of faculty and staff while she was here.”
Justine completed all required coursework before her untimely death, but hadn’t yet finished a senior capstone project necessary to earn her degree. Her friend and classmate, La’Bria Wallace, stepped in to finish it for her, which she said took quite a bit of work.
”It was a lot of hours, a lot of stress,” Wallace said. “I knew how important it was for her to finish the capstone which is why I took the initiative to finish it. Me and her pretty much went through the major together from the beginning and so I wanted us to both finish it at the end.”
With graduation requirements complete, administrators met to discuss honoring Justine with a posthumous bachelor’s degree. “Awarding someone a degree, we take it very seriously. We were extremely sad but pleased to be able to provide this degree to her mother,” Gerl said.
On Saturday, Linda Case will wear her daughter’s cap and gown to accept the degree Justine worked so hard to accomplish. Case said it will be the first four-year degree awarded in the family.
“It’s bitter sweet to accept this award,” Case said. “It’s going to be an emotional ride, but it’s still gonna be a good day because we’ve been looking forward to this for so long. I’m just gonna give her her props and say ‘Baby, you did it.’”