FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Julie Clark, left, and Gilda Holy graduated together from the University of Phoenix. The daughter and mother have been attending classes together for four years, and each received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. They posed outside the Blaisdell Concert Hall yesterday prior to the start of the graduation ceremony.
A mother-daughter duo finishes college education together
Pregnant at 15, Gilda Holy put college at the back of her mind. "I was thinking, 'How am I going to finish high school ... let alone be a professional?'"
Twenty-six years later, Holy credits her daughter Julie Clark, 25, with inspiring her to get a bachelor's degree.
"I was thinking, 'How am I going to finish high school ... let alone be a professional?'"
Mother who got her bachelor's degree with her daughter
The mother-daughter duo graduated yesterday from the University of Phoenix in Honolulu, an accomplishment they said would have been impossible if not for one another.
"I would not have been able to pass math if it wasn't for her," joked Holy, 41.
Mother and daughter took every class together for four years.
They both received degrees in criminal justice as more than 300 graduates and their friends and family members packed the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Clark plans to go to law school, and Holy wants to get a master's degree in sociology or psychology.
Doctoral candidate and teacher Fred Staedel said never before in his 15 years at the university had he taught a mother and daughter together. Staedel said he has instructed husband-wife pairs six times but that Holy and Clark were unique.
"For adults to hold down a job, a personal life and go to college at night full time is quite a challenge," he said. "And for a mother and daughter to go together and both of them finish together is, I think, quite an achievement."
The University of Phoenix, which has more than 190 campuses across the country, caters to working adults. Students take one class, once a week from 6 to 10 p.m., for five weeks.
Even that was no breeze for Clark and Holy, whose pre-degree paths had some clear parallels.
Before starting her first class, newlywed Clark became pregnant.
"My first thought was, 'How am I going to do this? There's no way I can work full time, go to school full time and raise a baby,'" said Clark.
But with her mother's support, Clark gave birth, continued her education and missed only one class.
"My first thought was, 'How am I going to do this? There's no way I can work full time, go to school full time and raise a baby.'"
Holy's daughter, who plans to get her law degree
Holy, an immigrant from Peru, spoke only Spanish until age 12. After becoming pregnant, she dropped out of Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif.
In her 20s, after moving to Hawaii from Japan, where her husband, John, was stationed, Holy got her GED from Waipahu Adult School.
Clark, who dropped out of Campbell High School at 16, also got her GED from Waipahu Adult School.
The graduates say they always wanted to go to college, despite the obstacles. And family support made a difference.
Although Holy's parents were unable to fly from California to attend the graduation, the new graduates were not upset.
"I told them, 'Don't worry, Mom, if you can't come now. You'll come when we get our master's,'" said Holy.
Holy said she hopes her 14-year-old son, John Jr., and 18-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, follow her example in pursuing a higher education.
"Gosh, I was like 12 or 13 when my mom got her GED," said Clark. "Just to see where she's come, I feel like I have helped her a lot along the way, too."
"My children are my inspiration," said Holy. "I just wanted to tell this story because I think parents need to lead by example."