Most students have had this nightmare before — they are sitting in class, talking to their friends and all of a sudden, their mother walks into the classroom.
For Angelina Gerardo, a graduate of the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, this “nightmare” wound up being a dream come true. Angelina and her mother Sharon Hunt Gerardo graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine together in June.
Sharon, an alumna of UC Davis who worked in the veterinary research field, was inspired to go to veterinary school by her late husband, Mike, who was a veterinarian.
Mike’s unexpected death reminded Sharon of all the happiness she and her husband shared in the field of veterinary medicine — they had started a veterinary business in Simi Valley, Calif.
She decided to return to school in order to finish the educational path she had started.
“If my husband hadn’t have died, I would not have been motivated to get my degree in veterinary medicine,” Sharon said.
Angelina was very enthusiastic about her mother going back to veterinary school, until she found out that they would be going to the same school. The two had had ongoing discussions about attending schools on both the East and West coasts.
Both women agree that their attending UC Davis together was a last-minute decision.
“My first response was, ‘Are you really sure you want to go to Davis?’ Needless to say, I was less than thrilled,” Angelina said.
Sharon said she had not planned on attending school with her daughter.
“I had been accepted to schools on the East Coast, just like Angelina, but then we would be leaving family and the weather that we have been accustomed to,” Sharon said.
Sharon realized that she and her daughter might need some time apart, so she called the university to request that she and her daughter would be placed in different lab sections.
“The first two years were all core classes, which means that we had every single class together. We sat at opposite ends of the room, however. She sat in the front with her friends and I sat with my friends towards the back,” Angelina said.
Before Sharon had called, the university had been unaware that they had accepted a mother-daughter team into the class of 2008. As Sharon goes by Hunt Gerardo instead of Gerardo, they were not together in the screening process since applications are usually processed alphabetically.
“As far as we know, the school has not had a parent-child team in the same year,” said Lynn Narlesky, of the communications department in the veterinary medicine dean’s office.
Sharon commented that classmates were very supportive and friendly toward having a mother in the classroom, often waving and saying “Hey mom” to her in greeting.
Having her mother with her in class ended up being a blessing in disguise for Angelina, for unexpected reasons. It assured her that there was at least one person in her family who understood the pressures of being enrolled in veterinary school.
“The best part was having a loved one so close to me that understood all of the stresses of vet school and understood that temporary sacrifices are made, including a certain extent of neglect of loved ones. There was never any ‘Why can’t you come over and spend more time with your family?’ or ‘You never call anymore’ or ‘It can’t be that bad,’” Angelina said.
What was good for Angelina wasn’t necessarily as good for Sharon.
“The hardest part [of school] as a parent was seeing how stressful it was for her. I was actually there and able to see how tired and stressed she was,” said Sharon.
While Sharon had to endure the pressures of school herself and had to see the stress that it caused her daughter, she was happy watching her daughter’s social life blossom.
“It was nice to see Angelina frequently and to be able to see that she made some good friends. Vet school is very stressful and having good friends that were going through the same experience and could struggle through together — you know they will be friends for the rest of their lives,” Sharon said.
Another unexpected relief for both Angelina and Sharon was that Angelina always had a dog-sitter.
“I often joke that having an instant pet-sitter was the best thing about going to school with Mom,” Angelina said.
Angelina got a puppy during her second year and she took it over to her mother’s house to play in the yard with her mother’s dog. It was during these puppy play dates that Angelina and her mother started to study together. Both women agreed that studying together was wonderful because they had very similar learning paces.
When it was time for graduation, it was very emotional and special for both women. Angelina got to see her mother’s lifelong wish of becoming a veterinarian come true.
“The one thing that I learned about this whole experience is that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. Being a vet was one of mom’s lifelong dreams and she was strong enough to pursue it. I don’t think that if I had been in her shoes, I would have been strong enough to do the same,” said Angelina.
As for Sharon, she was proud to walk the stage with her daughter.
“It’s been a rewarding four years because I got to see my daughter achieve that goal [of graduation] and carrying on with what my late husband did. It’s wonderful to know that she — well, we, are done and it was wonderful to participate in the process with her,” Sharon said.
Now that they are done with school, the Gerardo women are pursuing different fields of veterinary medicine. Angelina is going to take an Army Officer Basic Leadership Course, a sort of officer’s boot camp, in San Antonio, Texas.
She will be there for several months before being stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where she will work as veterinarian for three years.
“I will be taking care of the military working dogs as well as the soldiers’ pets,” Angelina said.
Sharon is going to continue on with school and will get a master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine. But for now she’s taking some time off with her new husband.
“He gets to see a more relaxed Sharon,” she laughed.
She hopes to work for the government by working with large herds in order to prevent diseases.
While Sharon is very proud of her daughter’s choice of career, she worries that Angelina won’t know anyone when she gets there.
“A little secret: Parents never stop being parents,” said Sharon.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at email@example.com