It’s not unusual for Lesley students to have family ties — from siblings who attend a few years apart to the children of our faculty and staff. A mother-daughter duo graduating together, however, is rare and certainly a cause for celebration.
On May 21, we marked that milestone as Carolina Vazquez, 39, and her daughter Dejah Morales, 23, both donned cap and gown to walk across the stage at Commencement.
Although they majored in different subjects and had no overlapping classes, the two were a steady source of support for each other.
“We’ve always been pretty close,” says Vazquez, who completed her degree last summer but didn’t have a chance to attend graduation until Lesley resumed in-person Commencement this May.
School is now in session
The mother and daughter haven’t always had an easy relationship with education.
Growing up in the Boston area, the child of a Costa Rican mother and Puerto Rican father, Vazquez says education wasn’t a priority. She was just 16 when Morales, the oldest of her three children, was born. She soon dropped out of high school, following in the path of her older brother and sister.
Vazquez earned her GED, but as her kids got older and she spent endless hours working for low pay, she decided to get earn her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education.
“I needed to show my kids that education is important,” says Vazquez, who enrolled in Urban College of Boston.
Morales describes her relationship with education as “love-hate.” She was diagnosed with a learning disability in second grade, and while having an Individualized Education Program (IEP) improved her comprehension in the classroom, she says, “the extra attention made me feel weird.”
The older she got, however, the more she came to value the way her brain works.
“Now I still find value and joy in learning. That’s something no one can take away from you,” she says.
While both mother and daughter have learned to embrace education, they never planned to attend the same university or to graduate together.
Morales began her college career as a nutrition major at Framingham State University. She soon realized that she was both a city girl and bad at biology. Raised in Revere, she loved the idea of attending college in a more urban environment like Cambridge. Plus, she’d found a new interest in Global Studies, which Lesley offered.
“I’m always interested in learning about culture and language,” Morales says. “It allowed me an opportunity to see how we’re all interconnected.”
Vazquez arrived at Lesley through a different path. In 2019, Lesley began a partnership that allowed students at Urban College of Boston, a community college, to complete their bachelor’s degree in Human Services, Early Childhood Education or General Studies. Since most students at the college live nearby, they could complete all their coursework with Lesley professors at Urban College and online. The opportunity fit Vazquez’s needs perfectly, and she opted to continue her Early Childhood Education studies. She also earned a Certificate in Child Homelessness Studies, a program that focuses on helping kids who have experienced trauma due to homelessness.
“I always had that passion of working with children but also helping families that have children with special needs,” says Vazquez, who learned to advocate for her own children, who each had an IEP.
Still, Vazquez had doubts about finishing her degree, and her daughter encouraged her along the way.
Vazquez recalls her daughter telling her, “Oh ma, you have senioritis.”
The two helped each other throughout their college careers. Morales reviewed her mother’s papers and helped her navigate Zoom and other technology. Vazquez offered frequent words of encouragement and support.
“I feel like embarking on a college journey is not solely about getting a certificate or your bachelor’s or master’s,” says Morales. Coming from an underserved community, she says, “You look at the world much differently once you gain a level of knowledge that we don’t all have access to.”
With their bachelor’s degrees completed, the mother and daughter are making plans for their futures. Morales will join the AmeriCorps and serve in Colorado beginning in the fall. Vazquez, a teaching assistant in a second-grade inclusion class, is considering returning to college for her master’s in education.