Candace Yow was an “emotional wreck” Friday morning, but a happy one, she was quick to add.
In just hours, the 46-year-old mom would cross a stage in UNC Charlotte’s Halton Arena for her diploma, a four-year bachelor of science degree in respiratory therapy.
So would her daughter, 21-year-old Samantha Whitley, for her four-year nursing degree. Each inspired the other, they said.
Best of all, they’ll work together full time beginning this summer with children recovering from heart surgeries at Levine Children’s Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center.
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Yow already works full time as the respiratory clinical coordinator at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and as a respiratory therapist in Levine’s pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.
She returned to school in 2002 at age 32 for a two-year associate degree in respiratory care. For the last 10 years, she has worked two full-time jobs.
“My goal was to become as independent as possible on my own,” said Yow, who lives in Stanfield in Stanly County. “As a single mom, it was a struggle,” but her two girls “watched my determination of getting where I needed to be in life.”
“They saw my drive to make something out of myself,” she said.
Daughter Alexis Whitley, 18, will graduate from West Stanly High June 10 and will attend UNCC in the fall, possibly in pre-nursing. Yow also has a son, Hunter Rushing, 9.
She thought for years of returning for her bachelor’s degree. She’d seen her health care teammates do it.
Once Samantha enrolled at UNCC, “I really thought how cool would it be to graduate with her.”
Other thoughts made her emotional Friday, including how proud her father would have been to see the first member of his side the family get a bachelor’s degree. He died 12 years ago. Yow is the second on her mother’s side with one.
She also thought about how her life story may have inspired Samantha’s.
Samantha wanted to become a lawyer at first. When Yow suggested she consider a career in health care, Samantha bristled.
“ ‘Just because you’re in health care doesn’t mean I want to be in health care,’ ” Samantha recalls telling her mom in standard rebellious teen fashion.
“I was in high school, and you don’t always listen to your mom,” said Samantha, a 2012 graduate of West Stanly High. “I wanted to do the total opposite.”
Thoughts of law dissipated, however, when Samantha began work as a certified nursing assistant at Novant Health Presbyterian. She worked all four years of college as a CNA for the pediatric department.
She realized how much she liked caring for people, “making a difference in their life.” She recalled how health care workers made a difference in her mom’s life, too.
Candace Yow has a congenital heart defect. She had heart surgeries 12 and 14 years ago, and has an artificial mitral valve, which is inserted in patients when that heart valve malfunctions.
Samantha, who lives in Harrisburg and is engaged to be married, said she also has witnessed the difference her mom makes with the children at Levine. It’s inspired her to become the best nurse she can be, she said.
Each walked the stage Friday with a homemade design on her cap.
Samantha drew on her mom’s cap an image of pink lungs with the words, “never take a breath for granted.”
Samantha thought up the drawing after one of her sorority sisters made a design for Samantha’s cap – a red heart with the words, “Let the Journey Begin.”
UNCC graduation ceremonies
The university is holding three ceremonies this weekend to award undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees to about 4,390 students.
At 1 p.m. Friday, degree candidates for the Belk College of Business, College of Computing and Informatics, College of Health and Human Services, and the Graduate School gathered for commencement in Halton Arena of the Barnhardt Student Activity Center.
On Saturday, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences – UNCC’s largest college – and the Graduate School will award degrees at 10 a.m. The College of Arts + Architecture, College of Education, the William States Lee College of Engineering, and the Graduate School will confer degrees at 3 p.m.
Emily Zimmern, former president of the Levine Museum of the New South, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree at the Saturday morning ceremony.
Former Charlotte Observer journalist Fannie Flono will receive the Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree at the afternoon event.