Commencement extra-special for grandfather who marches in granddaughter’s ceremony

Rachel Reindeau, Class of 2017, and her grandfather Jim Cheshire, Class of 1967. (Vanderbilt University)
Rachel Riendeau, Class of 2017, and her grandfather Jim Cheshire, Class of 1967. (Vanderbilt University)

It was a double celebration at Vanderbilt University’s Commencement for alumnus Jim Cheshire. He marched in the procession today along with other members of the Class of 1967 to mark the 50th anniversary of his graduation. His granddaughter Rachel Riendeau marched as well, receiving her bachelor’s degree along with 1,736 other members of the Class of 2017.

“This is just a whole series of events that came together to collide in a wonderful day,” he said. “I’m so proud of her.”

Riendeau is one of 3,954 undergraduate and graduate students who received diplomas May 12 as part of Vanderbilt’s 142nd Commencement exercises. “This is so much more special, having him march,” the Ohio native and early childhood education major said. “He’s been such an influence in my education. We’ve always cheered for Vanderbilt, and his work ethic is incredible.”

Cheshire had been working and served two years in the Army before being accepted at Vanderbilt. A decade older than most of his classmates and already a husband and father, Cheshire was working full time and attending classes full time during his undergraduate career. Cheshire remembers a tremendous sense of liberation when he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. “It was work and study, work and study,” he said. “The relief of graduating was monumental.”

He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at Vanderbilt over the next four years. “My son Jim said back then, ‘How many times is Dad going to graduate?'”

All three of the couple’s children were born in Nashville, and Cheshire’s career with Western Electric took the family to Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas City. In 1994, Cheshire retired to Atlanta with his wife, Loretto. After spending the first decade of retirement playing a lot of golf, Cheshire started a home remodeling business. “I just have to have a purpose,” he said.

For Riendeau, it’s that drive that defines her grandfather. “He does so much stuff — he’s always fixing things,” she said. “He’ll still stay up until 3 a.m. to get something done.”

After cheering for Vanderbilt through her childhood, Riendeau found the university to be a good fit. “I’ve had a great four years, but it’s so different from my grandpa’s time here,” she said. “I’ve been active in University Catholic and Alpha Omicron Pi. And the education program here is just so good.” She hopes to start her career as a classroom teacher this fall.

Cheshire’s return to campus gives him a chance to reflect. “My life has been such a blended blessing of a lot of things,” he said. “I come from very simple beginnings, growing up in central Kentucky during the Depression. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself. It’s proof that anything is possible.”