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Mom and daughter earning same associate degree on same day

Linda and Danielle Owens close up the Joint-Use Library almost every weeknight.

They’re not staff, they’re late-night study partners who will be Tidewater Community College graduates on May 12. They will sit side by side at the Ted Constant Convocation Center where each will be conferred an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education at the college’s 66th Commencement Exercises.

It will be a memorable moment for mother, Linda, and daughter, Danielle.

“I didn’t think I could do it; now I’ve done it,” said Linda, ready to begin work on a bachelor’s in early childhood education at Norfolk State University after she completes a second degree, an Associate of Science in Social Science, at TCC. “I’m 57 and I’m graduating. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

Linda vividly recalls sitting in the audience watching her son, Robert, finish with his doctorate from Grantham University. The longtime bus driver for Virginia Beach Schools regretted not having a college degree herself.

Linda and Danielle Owens studying together in the Joint-Use Library.

Around the same time, Linda learned she needed college classes to be considered for a promotion at Hampton Roads Transit, her summertime job.

“I decided it was my turn to get my own college degree,” she said.

She started at TCC in 2016, where Danielle, 25, had been a student since 2012. A learning disability made retaining material difficult for Danielle, who was regularly frustrated by navigating high school.

Danielle’s soft spot for children motivated her for a career in early childhood education, but it wasn’t until she worked closely with TCC disability counselor Vickie Rogers that she realized a college degree was attainable.

“She kept me on track,” Danielle said.

Now she’s finishing up her final semester internship at Wave Children’s Learning Center in Virginia Beach, where she’s also been hired to work with toddlers.

“If I could work for free, I would,” she said. “That’s how much I love it. The kids give me hugs all the time.”

Danielle’s struggles to overcome her disability led to Linda choosing the same degree path at TCC.

“I want to catch the problems that didn’t get caught with her,” she said. “I want to work with special needs kids as young as kindergarten.”

Focus was key to completion for both of them. It would have been easy for Linda to finish her bus route and head home to relax. Danielle can fall into the trap of distractions replacing homework at night if she isn’t careful.

That’s why the two are regulars at the Joint-Use Library, where they review course material together, compare lesson plan homework and seek out help when needed. Both are on a first-name basis with library staff and have used the Learning Assistance Center on the Virginia Beach Campus.

“All your resources are right here,” said Linda, her class materials sprawled out in front of a computer. “Everyone knows us here. We’re the last ones to leave.”

Both earned certificates in December and also walked in that commencement. But walking together to pick up their associate degrees is a bigger milestone. Mom and daughter, who have skydived together and weathered Busch Gardens’ most intimidating rollercoasters as a pair, understand how special this is.

“Not everyone gets to go to college with their mom,” Danielle said. “When I cross that stage on May 12, I’m going to think of success and my reaction to my high school graduation after accomplishing all those goals. I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t see college then; now it’s right there.”