It’s impossible not to see that Tasha Oliver and her daughter, Cierra Patterson, are mother and daughter. From their bubbly personalities to their dark-rimmed glasses, the two are inseparable.
But the duo said, at times, some of their professors and classmates failed to recognize the familial relationship.
“We don’t announce it like, ‘hey,’” Patterson said between laughs. “We’ve had people that we’ve had classes with for the last two years say ‘Are you serious?’”
“I don’t think the professors have realized it,” Oliver said.
For Oliver and Patterson, May 5th is not only a celebration of earning a degree; the day commemorates the commitment the two made to pursue a dream to seek greater opportunities in their professional lives.
Oliver, 43, said she was 19-years-old when she had Patterson.
“I had no guidance, no structure, no father figure. It was just my mom and my sister,” she said. “I figured joining the military would try to give me some direction and, in the meantime, find out what I wanted to do with myself. I think it was the best thing I did.”
Both Oliver and her husband served in the U.S. Army. Oliver says the experience taught her discipline and perseverance.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice, but it definitely is rewarding,” Oliver said. “I think it saved my life.”
Oliver worked as a cook in the military, but was not satisfied with where she was in her career.
“When I came out of the military, I realized that wasn’t the career I wanted to be in,” Oliver said. “I realized that if I could take care of my children, I could take care of people.”
Oliver’s mother, a registered nurse, helped her fill out the paperwork to become a certified nursing assistant. She has since worked in the medical field for more than 15 years, most recently as the patient access representative at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South.
Patterson came to Clayton State in 2015 by way of the University’s pharmacy technician program after earning an associate’s degree in health information administration.
“I was trying to find something that was similar and I wanted to stay in that field. I thought healthcare management was along the same lines,” she said.
A former dual-enrollment student at Clayton State, Patterson, 24, says she fell in with the party atmosphere at Georgia Southern and only stayed for a semester.
Her mother nudged her to get back to school, so she decided to return to Clayton State to get her pharmacy tech certificate in 2012. Shortly after, she sought her associates at Georgia Perimeter.
Patterson is a certified pharmacy technician at Wellstar Spalding Regional Hospital.
Despite successful careers, each sought more for their life and desired to have a greater impact in healthcare.
Clayton State fulfilled that purpose, serving as a convenient option for Patterson, in addition to being a place where Oliver could use her Veterans Administration and GI Bill benefits to get an affordable education.
“[Clayton State] likes to see their students do well, and even after you’re gone they still play a big role in furthering your career,” Patterson said.
“It was very affordable,” Oliver added. “It had something I felt like I could use in my future.”
Both sought a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management. Patterson added a minor in Supply Chain Management.
Oliver initially enrolled and had been going to Clayton State since 2008. A few stops and starts, and a brief diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009 proved to be challenging.
“I wanted to quit,” she said. “It takes a toll on your body. I sort of felt like a failure and felt like I was too old.”
This was the second time that Oliver had faced that illness. She had first been diagnosed in 2006. It was tough on Patterson, who had to comfort her parents and her siblings.
“I think the second time, that was a shocker. You don’t think something like that would happen again after you overcome it the first time,” Patterson said. “I definitely felt like I had to step up and help take care of my siblings.”
With the support of her family, Oliver persevered. She spent a year getting treatment and has been in remission since.
It has helped that in these last few years, Oliver’s daughter has been by her side, the two often taking classes together and sharing the same car when their schedules lined up. They say their relationship has grown.
“I think it has definitely bonded us and made us stronger,” Oliver said.
With their exit presentations completed—both admit it was a bit nerve-wracking until they heard they passed—the two plan to follow different paths for their careers post-graduation.
Oliver wants to pursue a master’s degree in healthcare management and envisions a career as a health information manager.
Patterson would like to shift to a career in nursing and has begun to apply to nursing school.
“I’m done with this chapter so I want to see what’s next,” Patterson said.
In the meantime, the two are excited about walking across the stage to accept their diplomas.
As for graduating at the same time, Oliver and Patterson said it wasn’t until a year ago that the two found out.
Oliver said, smiling, “It was totally an accident. We didn’t plan it at all.”
Photos by Joseph Echols/Phrozen Memories