This weekend, the Graf family of Vienna received four college diplomas within 18 hours.
On Friday afternoon, brothers Tim Graf, 25, and Jon Graf, 23, each received a master's degree from Virginia Tech -- Tim an MBA in finance, Jon an MS in computer engineering.
After an abbreviated celebration in Blacksburg, Va., the Grafs headed home to Fairfax County. Yesterday morning, parents Jeff Graf, 51, and Suzanne Graf, 52, each received a master's degree from Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham -- Jeff Graf's degree in divinity, Suzanne's in Christian counseling.
Jon Graf, who entered Virginia Tech with his brother in 1998, joked that the rest of the family copied his goal to get an advanced degree. Jon and Tim were mostly home-schooled until college, but Jeff Graf went back to school in response to what he described as a midlife crisis.
"Public schools do a great job educating people, but they wouldn't do for our children what we wanted to have done," Jeff Graf said.
Classes in the Graf house were regimented, beginning right after breakfast with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. They ended only when the daily assignments had been completed successfully. At each point, the boys were tested -- and graded.
"My mother probably kept better transcripts than I got in college," Tim Graf said.
Tim and Jon took classes at Northern Virginia Community College before transferring to Virginia Tech, where they received their bachelor's degrees.
Jon Graf said that when he reached college, he felt well prepared academically but shaken by the realm of ideas to which he was suddenly exposed.
"My college years have been a process of determining what I believe," he said, recalling in particular a freshman English class taught by a professor with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. The sons' move to Blacksburg was perhaps harder on the parents than on their former students as they struggled to deal with their empty next.
Jeff Graf had spent years traveling across the country and around the world as a consultant, teaching telecommunications employees how to sell their products. Although he enjoyed his job, he said, part of him wanted to teach something that would endure longer than the latest technology.
In 2001, Graf scaled back his business and dived head-first into the academic world at Capital Bible. On the frequent hour-long commute between Vienna and Lanham, he would listen to tapes he had made of Greek and Hebrew lessons. "That doesn't work so well on the Beltway," confessed Graf, who soon traded his recordings for a practice partner. Since the seminary offered spouses a free class, Suzanne Graf took Greek.
While at Capital Bible, she learned about its program in Christian counseling, which intrigued the former college psychology major. She took a few classes in the department the following semester and by the next term was enrolled full time as well.
The Grafs had some savings, but they took on several part-time jobs to finance their education. They also matched, dollar for dollar, money their sons earned to pay for their respective studies. Now, at the same time, all four Grafs will exchange their discussions of papers, tests and side gigs for full-time employment searches.
Jon is also getting married in August, and during the summer his father will set upon the ordination process so he can perform the wedding ceremony.
After that, the elder Grafs will concentrate on raising money to head for Papua New Guinea, where they hope to teach in a Bible college for at least a year.
"If we have this knowledge and we don't share it with other people, then that's tremendously ungrateful," Suzanne Graf said.