Debbie Brewer carefully lifted her oldest son from their white Dodge van.
She hoisted him into his wheelchair, the one with the blue Indianapolis Colts horseshoe on the back.
Friday was a time to relax after wrapping up finals at Horry-Georgetown Technical College. The Brewers went to their usual celebration spot, Hwy 55, for cheesesteaks and fries.
The meal marked a bittersweet milestone: It was their last post-exam feast as HGTC students.
For two years, the Brewers have coordinated schedules, studied for exams, critiqued each other’s projects and evaluated professors.
But that ends Wednesday. That’s when Debbie Brewer will receive her associate’s degree in digital arts.
“She sticks through stuff,” said 20-year-old Weston Brewer. “When she gets her mind set on something, you’re not changing it.”
He should know.
For the Brewers, perseverance is a family trait.
Eight years ago, Weston Brewer nearly died in an accidental shooting.
A family member was examining a revolver and didn’t realize it was loaded until fumbling the weapon.
The hammer dropped as Weston Brewer skateboarded by.
A bullet pierced the seventh-grader’s skull.
Doctors didn’t expect him to survive. If he did, they said, his best hope would be living in vegetative state.
But Weston Brewer is his mother’s son. He kept fighting.
A year and a half later, he returned to school. Teachers placed him in special education classes but soon realized he could make it in general ed courses.
Weston Brewer set a goal: He would graduate with his class. Not with students two years behind him. Not with the class of 2014.
He would accept his diploma with kids his own age.
In 2013, he did just that at Socastee High School.
Debbie Brewer often thought about going back to school. After high school, she attended Furman University for a year before dropping out. She later tried a technical school, but that didn’t pan out, either. Then she got married, had two children and went to work.
Over the years, Debbie Brewer noticed she had a knack for designing things. Employers would hire her to type letters and produce spreadsheets. They soon found out she was capable of much more.
After she got a part-time job at Beach Church, Debbie Brewer gradually became the go-to person for bulletins, posters and logos.
Two years ago, she was looking to further develop those skills and began checking out the graphic design program at Coastal Carolina University.
But the family decided against going into debt, so the focus became Weston Brewer’s college education.
During their tour of the HGTC campus, Debbie Brewer heard about a tuition assistance program through the S.C. Education Lottery.
“I kind of went into the admissions office and asked them, ‘Is that right?’” she recalled. “And when I walked out, I was registered.”
The mother and son enrolled together, she on a digital arts track and he in a sports managament program.
“We didn’t set out for, ‘It’ll sure be convenient if Mom’s at school with me,’” Debbie Brewer said. “We didn’t set out for that at all.”
Two years together
Weston Brewer worried about how his mother’s education would affect him.
“Honestly, I was nervous when she first started,” he said. “I didn’t think she would be able to just leave if I needed her. But she’s been able to do the same stuff.”
When the son texts, the mother responds. Weston Brewer has only limited use of his right hand, so it’s not unusual for his mother to unwrap a sandwich for him or hold a receipt for him to sign.
For most of their time at HGTC, they kept Monday through Thursday schedules. They did their best to avoid 8 a.m. classes because it took them longer to get ready in the mornings.
Although they never had any classes together, they bounced project ideas off each other. Debbie Brewer knew her son wouldn’t sugarcoat his feelings about her projects.
And what was it like going to college with your mother?
“Like going to school,” Weston Brewer said. “It is cool, but it’s one of those deals where you know that she’s there but you don’t, like, focus on it. You just focus on doing your stuff.”
The son isn’t sure about his post-college plans. He’s thought about earning enough credits to transfer into Coastal Carolina’s sports management program.
Before the shooting, he was a multi-sport athlete, the kid picked first in physical education classes whose friends called him “Peyton Vick” because he could throw a football with the accuracy of Peyton Manning and run like Michael Vick.
After the shooting, he wouldn’t give up on a sports career. His 15-year-old brother Caleb plays baseball for the Saints of Myrtle Beach’s Christian Academy and a long-held dream is to be his brother’s agent.
“He doesn’t see it, but he’s a really good baseball player,” Weston Brewer said of his younger sibling. “I just thought it would be cool to stay connected to the family through that. He’s looked up to me and I look up to him.”
Ever the sports scholar, Weston Brewer pointed out that growing up his favorite baseball player was Chipper Jones — whose agent was his childhood friend.
The next step
Sometime Sunday, Debbie Brewer will stand in front of the Olympic rings, the same ones she carefully painted on a backdrop a few days before.
The theme at Beach Church is “Gold Medal Moms” and, as always, Debbie Brewer will strike a pose for the annual photo-op. She also plans to enjoy steak and chocolate.
It is Mother’s Day, after all.
But three days later, as she stands in the lights of HGTC’s commencement, she’ll think about another student, the Colts fan out in the audience sitting in a wheelchair.
Weston Brewer still has some more classes to take before he graduates.
His mother plans to work full time at the church, and she wonders what it will be like to drop him off and not head to class herself. She also thinks about how he’ll handle things on his own.
More than anything, though, she wants him to see himself on that platform, earning a college degree when eight years ago no one thought he would live.
“Weston’s been my inspiration for years,” she said. “I kind of hope that I walk across that stage to be his inspiration.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.