WASHINGTON, PA (May 22, 2017) — Graduating college is an important milestone in any student’s life, but for Cheri Duball and her daughter Juliet, this year’s commencement is even more special.
The mother-daughter duo both received their degrees at Washington & Jefferson College’s (W&J) commencement ceremony May 20.
The realization that the two would share a graduation date came as a surprise.
“It wasn’t planned this way, because I’ve been taking classes here for 13 years,” said Cheri, a 15-year employee of W&J and current acquisitions and special projects assistant at U. Grant Miller Library. “It was about a year and a half ago that we finally figured out, depending on the classes I took, I would be able to graduate this year.”
When she first learned of her graduation date, Cheri worried about taking the spotlight away from her daughter. After some discussion, the two decided that it’s a unique honor they are happy to share.
“No one I’ve ever heard of, no one I know, has walked the same day as their mom,” Juliet said. “I’ve never heard of that. So, it’s definitely going to be a lot different but really cool because who gets to take graduation pictures with their mom, dressed up [in a cap and gown] together?”
Going through college at the same time (Cheri also shared her time at W&J with her older daughter Olivia, who graduated in 2013) gave the duo a different perspective on their education.
For Juliet, it meant having a mother who could serve as a college guide and mentor. When she had questions about what courses would be beneficial for her or how she could improve her writing skills, she had a sounding board who could offer insight from personal experience.
Cheri’s daughters returned the favor throughout their adolescence and would often quiz their mom with flash cards on her course material or listen to her practice presentations, providing helpful feedback.
The support the pair gave each other has emboldened both women to try things they may not have otherwise. Juliet took on a Magellan Project, during which she worked on coral reef restoration in the Florida Keys and gained her own sense of independence, while Cheri has been designated the speaker for this year’s Baccalaureate Service.
“She encouraged me to give the Baccalaureate speech and told me just to do it,” Cheri said of Juliet. “So, I think having the girls recognize the amount of work and effort I’ve put into it, and we both realize just how challenging W&J is, I think we can both appreciate how much hard work we’ve put into getting these degrees.”
Both mother and daughter felt welcomed by the W&J community, which extended the feeling of family to their surroundings.
“When I first started, I’d see her (Cheri) walking around and I’d wave and be like ‘Hi, Mom’ and people would turn and look at me,” Juliet said. “Some people didn’t know how to react, then others say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve had class with your mom. She’s great. She’s so smart.’”
Cheri agreed that in class, students had been gracious and welcoming, many inviting her to participate in their group for class projects, and faculty and staff have been supportive since the beginning of her student career.
“I remember sitting in my first freshman English class and being so overwhelmed by all these recent high school seniors that I felt were so brilliant, because you have to be smart to get in here. These students were fresh out of high school; it had been 30 years for me. I thought I couldn’t handle it.” Cheri said.
“I talked to my professor who later became my advisor and I said, ‘I just don’t think I’m getting this,’ and she replied, ‘I think you’re getting it.’ I said, ‘But these kids, they’re so smart.’ She said, ‘You hang in there. You’ve got life experience. You will intimidate them.’ And I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do that, but okay.’ She gave me the confidence [to keep going].”
Both women have flourished at W&J. In addition to her Magellan Project, Juliet has completed majors in psychology and communication arts and was inducted into Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society. Cheri, an English major and gender and women’s studies minor, has been inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, Pi Gamma Mu, and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies, earned a spot on the Dean’s List, and was awarded the John Livingston Lowes Scholar English Department Book Prize.
After graduation, Juliet plans to attend graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in business at one of the Pittsburgh-area schools to which she has been accepted. She’ll work this summer in the HR office at W&J before pursuing full time employment in the city.
Cheri is proud to have reached her goal, and has some advice for those who may find themselves debating a return to school as a non-traditional student.
“I think the most important thing is that it’s never too late,” Cheri said. “You’ll appreciate different things, and apply some of your life lessons, which I’ve done so often in some of my classes. Don’t give up. It’s never too late to accomplish your goal if that’s your heart’s desire.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.
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