20 Years and 4,000 Miles to Attend Graduation

When Shelly Perkins ’16 moved to Germany in October 2017, she promised her daughter Aleyah that she wouldn’t miss the Alverno senior’s graduation in December. Not only was Perkins there, but she had the opportunity to serve as a graduation marshal during the ceremony. Having alumnae serve as the graduation marshals is a long-standing Alverno tradition.

“When she moved, I was upset she wouldn’t be at my graduation,” Aleyah says. “After all the struggles my mom went through to raise my sister and I, and to show us our education was really important, I was worried she wouldn’t be there.”

But traveling halfway across the world was a short stint in the longer journey that brought the Perkins’ women to Aleyah’s graduation day.

Shelly herself graduated from Alverno just one year ago, in December 2016. She had earned her GED at the age of 37, and her initial plan was to head to a technical school to begin working on her dream of becoming a nurse.

“I wanted to show my kids that it’s never too late,” she says.

She later transferred to Alverno in 2011 because she wanted a four-year degree. Adviser Beth Monhollen helped Shelly discover her true calling: sociology.

When Aleyah graduated from high school, Shelly encouraged her to enroll at Alverno, but at 18, Aleyah wanted a big university experience. After sitting in lecture halls with 300 students, Aleyah transferred to Alverno. She immediately appreciated the culture of empowerment and sisterhood her mother had been telling her about. Going through Alverno together strengthened the pair’s bond.

“Being a marshal in general is really nice because you work hard to get your degree and you know how you felt when you did it. It was even more special because it was my daughter,” Shelly says.

A 20-year anniversary gift

Being a graduation marshal in December was also particularly poignant for Barb Laabs ’97. Her daughter, Samantha, walked across Pitman Theatre stage nearly 20 years to the day after Barb did.

“I met my husband while at Alverno, got married and moved away from Milwaukee, so I commuted from Washington County to attend Weekend College,” she says. “Sam was two years old when I graduated, and I remember picturing her walking across Pitman Theatre stage one day.”

Samantha had her sights on Alverno — until she toured a larger university. She enrolled at a state school and, when that felt too large, transferred to a small liberal arts school. It didn’t feel quite right either. She finally came to Alverno as a Nursing student, intending to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, Christine Hinickle ’86, an alum who taught on the nursing faculty in the 1990s. Hinickle passed away four years ago.

“My mom and my aunt were definitely on my mind when I made the decision to go to Alverno,” Samantha says.

Samantha’s first class was with Dawn Balistreri, the same professor who taught Barb’s first class. Samantha appreciated being able to talk to her mom about the 8 Abilities and assessments, something others outside of Alverno didn’t always understand.

“It’s so special when you know what your daughter has gone through because you went through it, and you have this extra connection,” Barb says. “My husband and I have seen Sam grow into an incredible young woman. I was really excited about being a marshal.”

Samantha, who graduated with a biology degree, is now seeking a job in food service as a quality assurance or lab assurance technician. Grad school is definitely in the cards, but she first wants to get experience in the workforce. She has another dream as well.

“I would love to have a daughter who comes to Alverno one day,” she says. “That would be so awesome.”

As for Shelly and Aleyah Perkins, they both are headed back to school — this time on different continents. Shelly is starting a graduate program in Germany to become a licensed counselor. Aleyah has headed to California, where she will pursue a master’s degree in health care administration.

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