Sunday, January 11, 2004

Leri Downey, left, and her daughter, Diana Carter, are both attending UH-West Oahu. Downey graduated last semester with a degree in history, but is taking a class this semester with Carter, a literature major.

Study buddies

A mom and her daughter
share in college experiences

Learning is a family affair for Leri Downey, 84, and her daughter, Diana Carter.


Tomorrow, when the new semester begins at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, Downey and Carter will be taking the same class -- something that they have done several times since mother and daughter went back to college together.

"It's great to have a study buddy," Carter said. "We took a class together last semester, shared notes and talked about assignments."

Carter dropped out of college after graduating from Roosevelt High School. She said she wasn't ready for higher education and was frustrated with the bureaucracy and indifference toward students at UH-Manoa. She also wanted to pursue an acting career.

Downey wanted to go to Stanford University when she graduated from Oakland High School. But she said she had to get a job instead.

Downey didn't go back to school again until she was 50 and changing careers after being a professional dancer for 30 years. Downey got a job at Waimano Home, and the state allowed her to work and take vocational classes at Kapiolani Community College to become a licensed professional nurse.

"All my life I wanted a college education," Downey said.

But it wasn't until she was in her 70s, after she retired from the state Health Department, that she took her first liberal arts class at Windward Community College.

At that time, senior citizens could take classes for free.

"It was so interesting, I never stopped," Downey said. "If it had been a junk course, I might never have continued."

At first Downey took only classes that interested her, mostly Hawaiian and Pacific studies, since her husband was half-Hawaiian.

Eventually, she had enough credits that she could get her Associate in Arts degree from Windward.

Carter, who came back in Hawaii from the mainland in 1989, joined her mother at Windward, and mother and daughter, who were both members of the honor society, graduated together in 1993.

Carter moved back to the mainland, but when her mother had health problems a few years ago, she returned to Hawaii.

At the time, Downey was taking classes at UH-West Oahu and Carter would drive her to school.

"I'd take her and hang around all day. I would sort of pretend I was going to school," Carter said.

It wasn't long before Carter registered and mother and daughter were attending school together again.

Downey said she was disappointed when Carter dropped out of UH-Manoa. But she is happy that she and Carter are in college together.

Carter said there was always an expectation that she would graduate from college.

"It's not something I ever fought against. It just didn't work out," Carter said about her first college experience at Manoa.

"But when I did go back and put my mind to it, I ended up being a 4.0 student," she added. "I think it was for the best."

Downey graduated last semester with a degree in history. She's still taking classes, however, because, she said, she still loves learning and may get another degree.

Carter said she's working toward a teaching degree.

Both Downey and Carter said the staff at Windward Community College and UH-West Oahu are like a second family and help keep them interested in going to school.

"It's been a lot of fun. I can't speak highly enough for the teachers that we've had. They're so interested in their students," Downey said.

"They know you and care about you," Carter said.


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