Last May, Angeline Rodriguez, 43, became the first member of her family to graduate from college , but it didn’t take long for another to join the ranks. Her 23-year-old daughter, Ashley, was just seconds behind her during the ceremony at Georgia Perimeter College.
Both mother and daughter were proud to earn an associate degree in nursing, but it didn’t come easily.
Angeline always liked the idea of caring for others, but the single mother was too busy raising three children and working to attend college. She worked in factories as a machine operator and forklift operator, and earned a GED in the process.
Ashley had a baby right after graduating from high school, which was the catalyst for Angeline to enroll in college.
“Ashley was a child who watched the surgical shows on cable TV growing up. She always wanted to be a surgeon but after her son was born, she said she wanted to take a year off,” Angeline said. “I knew that the odds were that she’d never go back to school if she did, so I told her I was going to college. Predictably, she said, 'Hey, you can’t get a degree before me.’ ”
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It had been 25 years since Angeline was in a classroom and she was required to take several remedial courses before enrolling. Ashley took the summer off after graduating from high school, which put them in the same time frame for college.
“We didn’t ever plan to go to school together and I’m still surprised that we both got into the nursing program. They only had about 70 slots for 800 or so applicants,” Ashley said.
Although they were both students in GPC’s nursing program, they only had one class together. Angeline went to the school’s Decatur campus and Ashley attended the Newton site in Covington.
Ashley said the birth of her son influenced her decision to pursue nursing rather than becoming a doctor.
“I had an aunt who was a nurse and I saw how rewarding it was. Also, after seeing mom struggle to raise us, I wanted more job security for my son. I chose to get an ADN so that I could begin working sooner,” she said.
While Angeline was no longer raising small children, she faced another challenge — ADHD. It made the academic rigors of the nursing program more difficult and almost impossible for mother and daughter to study together.
“We tried it, but mom wants to skip around all over the place and I just like to go slow and soak it in,” Ashley said.
It often took four hours for Angeline to learn what Ashley could grasp in two.
Neither woman had any clinical background working as a nursing aide, so all the hands-on skills they learned in school were new to them, “but I wasn’t going to give up and neither did Ashley,” Angeline said.
“I knew that when I went to work, I would be learning through hands-on experience, which is the best way to learn,” she added. “As much as I want to help people, I plan to put 150 percent into making a difference in people’s lives. When I make someone feel good, it makes me feel good.”
Both women have received Pell Grants and some financial assistance from significant others, and Ashley worked during her first two years in GPC’s nursing program. She used her tax refunds to help pay for tuition.
“Going to school as a single parent takes a village and a pocketful of money,” said Ashley, whose son, Bryson, is now 4. “I’d never have been able to do it without all the babysitting help from my mom and grandmother.”
With associate degrees in hand, mother and daughter are looking ahead to the future.
Angeline is planning to take the N-CLEX exam to become a licensed registered nurse and move to Louisiana with her fiancé. She hopes to work in dialysis or in labor and delivery.
Ashley, who is preparing to take the N-CLEX, wants to work in labor and delivery, or in obstetrics. At some point, she’d like to continue her education and become certified as a nurse practitioner or nurse midwife.
Angeline insisted that they both attend GPC’s graduation ceremony.
“I wanted Ashley to have that picture of us together to keep, and I wanted others in my family to see that if I could do it, they could, too,” she said. “It was very hard and I have a lot more respect for all nurses now. But I can’t wait to make a difference in that way, and now I can.”
My mom helped me tremendously and now we’re ready,” Ashley added. “Look out, here we come.”