Mother and daughter UAB nursing students set to graduate together

Kelly Mitchell and Sarah Urdaneta will earn degrees from the UAB School of Nursing and walk together in UAB’s summer commencement ceremony Aug. 13. 

For University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing students Kelly Mitchell and Sarah Urdaneta, UAB’s upcoming summer commencement ceremony will be a unique moment in their lives. Mitchell Urdaneta casual 2016Sarah Urdaneta, seated, and her mother, Kelly Mitchell, will share the unique and memorable experience of graduating together as part of UAB's summer commencement ceremony.

It will be a special day for each student among the nearly 1,400 graduating and 700 expected to walk in the ceremony at Bartow Arena on Saturday, Aug. 13, but Mitchell and Urdaneta will also share the unique experience of graduating together as mother and daughter.

“I am so proud she actually went back and accomplished her goal of getting her bachelor’s degree,” Urdaneta said. “She’s been talking about it for years, ever since I was in high school, and now she’s finally done it. And it makes it even more exciting that she’s doing it with me.”

Thirty-one years ago, Mitchell graduated from what is now Bevill State Community College with an associate degree in nursing, and she began a career as a registered nurse that has taken her from Jasper to Orlando, Florida, to Birmingham and back to Jasper, mostly as an operating room nurse. At times, she thought about going back to get her BSN; but as she said, “life gets in the way sometimes,” and she never did. 

But when her daughter graduated from Carbon Hill High School in 2012 and decided she wanted to become a nurse, Mitchell knew the time had come for her to follow through on her career plans.

Urdaneta, a member of the School of Nursing’s VA Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP) Undergraduate Cohort 10, first went to Bevill State for two years to complete her undergraduate core course requirements, and then was accepted to the UAB School of Nursing’s BSN program in 2014 as a transfer student. That same year, Mitchell was accepted into the School’s RN-BSN (RN Mobility) program, which meant they could work toward the next chapters in their nursing careers at the same time. 

“We came over for orientation together on the same day and did some things like that together,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t end up having any of the same classes together because she lived in Birmingham, and I was in Jasper and did everything online. But we went parallel through our UAB journeys together.”

When they started, they shared the thought that it would be great to graduate together someday; but both admit they never truly thought it would happen, especially after Mitchell had to take an entire semester away due to an illness in the family. When she got ready to register for the spring 2016 semester, Mitchell realized that if she buckled down and focused on the two courses she had remaining, her daughter might get a surprise come graduation time. 

"It's going to be a special day, and it's going to be fun to share it with my mom."

“That’s when I decided I just had to go on and knock it out, because if I kept pushing it out further and further, I was going to be on Social Security and still not have my bachelor’s degree,” Mitchell said. “It was in January of this year that the light bulb came on that we really could finish at the same time, and I thought that would be fantastic.”

After deciding to complete her coursework, Mitchell could not keep her secret under wraps.

Urdaneta noticed something unusual in a conversation with her mother one day and began asking questions. Mitchell had mentioned she was getting together letters of reference to apply to the School’s Master of Science in Nursing program, and Urdaneta wanted to know why if she was not graduating until December. That is when Mitchell told her their dream would come true in August.

“She got ahead of herself a little bit,” Urdaneta said with a laugh. “She was talking about the master’s program, and I said ‘I thought you had to be finishing your bachelor’s before you could apply to the master’s program.’ She said she wasn’t going to say anything, and I asked her what she had planned to do. She said, ‘I was just going to show up in my cap and gown and surprise you!’”

The two could not have been happier, although Mitchell admits she had conflicting emotions at first and worried how her daughter might react when she learned they actually would graduate together. 

“I did not want Sarah to feel as though I was stealing any of the thunder from her college graduation,” Mitchell said. “I had already graduated from nursing school once, and I thought that maybe I didn’t need to do it after all. But she was proud and excited.”

Urdaneta was simply pleased that her mother had finally followed through on something she had stressed to her daughter — always finish what you start. 

“I don’t think it is a bad thing at all,” Urdaneta said. “It’s going to be a special day, and it’s going to be fun to share it with my mom. Maybe then I can even talk her into going to get our master’s degrees together. That way we can graduate together again someday.”