Cathy Hurley and her daughter, Frances, didn’t start out going to the same college together, but on May 15, both will take a long walk down the graduating aisle at New Jersey City University, getting their degrees in education, perhaps the first mother-daughter duo to do so.
A stay-at-home mom until four years ago, Cathy said she had never been to college and hadn’t much of a work record.
Frances, better known as Frankie, a 2006 graduate of Holy Family, went to Kean University at first and said she was completely lost—not just because it was a large campus but because she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life.
Initially seeking a career in graphic design, Frances struggled to find direction, recalling a moment when she was supposed to stand up in front of a podium and talk about what she wanted to do and nearly broke down in tears.
“I had to tell them I didn’t know,” she said. “I was really at a crossroads.”
Cathy talked her into paying a visit to the NJCU campus, and things changed dramatically. The campus was more intimate, and Frances got to see people she knew.
“My mother wouldn’t give up on me, and when I went to the campus, I felt more at home,” Frances said. “I knew some of the kids there, and I knew my mother would be there for me.”
Suddenly, she had new inspiration; she knew that she could not let her mother down, even though she was tempted to give up.
Frances graduates with two bachelor degrees, in early childhood/special education and history.
“Frankie started at Kean the year I went to NJCU,” Cathy said. “I was very happy. I asked her to come over and take a look. She thought it was very intimate, just big enough to meet her needs. She was able to focus. And it was close and convenient. Kean is very big; NJCU was a better fit. When she got here, she thrived. She went onto the dean’s list. She also figured out what she wanted to do with her life.”
Oddly enough, despite her confusion at Kean, Frances said she knew all along what she should be doing because she had worked at Ability Day Camp since she was 14. She said she went from worrying about life to loving college and her future.
Cathy said she had two classes with her daughter, Sociology of Family and Infant and Child Psychology.
They often studied together and helped balance the workload.
“I’m an overachiever,” Cathy acknowledged, though she said she wasn’t showing off. But she did bring a new perspective to the classroom. When they were in psychology class studying Freud, she noticed that much of the onus for the development of the children was put on the mother, and said so—critically.
“I saw my daughter nodding her head,” Cathy recalled.
She said it was a lot of fun, studying with her daughter and sharing class notes.
The psychology teacher was also named Hurley, which led people to ask if the mother and daughter were related.
“It was a very good experience,” Cathy said.
Frances said she liked taking classes with her mother.
“I thought it was very cool,” she said.
They both made friends and introduced each other to students they didn’t know. Cathy took secondary education, meaning that she will be teaching at the middle-school or high- school level as an English teacher.
“My certification is K to 12,” she said.
“My family and friends were my inspiration.” – Cathy Hurley said.
Both did their student teaching about the same time, and they share their tales of success and rewards. They have also been applying for jobs, in some cases, to the same school districts in Jersey City and elsewhere in Hudson County.
“This did not reflect badly, Frances said. “When I found out my mother was there the day before, I put on a glad face. They knew who we were, and I was glad to be associated with her. And if people judge me by my mother, I know I’ll be okay.”
For Cathy, the biggest challenge was managing her time and asking her family to put up with the trials and tribulations of going to school fulltime. She had always been independent, running her household. Now she had to depend on other people, and everybody went out of his or her way to help.
“My family and friends were my inspiration,” she said. “They were so encouraging and so proud of me.”
Would she do it again?
“Absolutely,” she said. “I should have done it much earlier in my life.”
One of the more stunning moments came when a professor read to the students in class.
“I was always the one who read to other people,” Cathy said. “I was blown over. I couldn’t wait to get to school. Home was difficult, but I was around people who were learning, and it was a beautiful experience. All I wanted to do was take everything in.”
She remembers the last day of class when all the other students were giving each other high fives, and she was crying.
“It was a moving experience, and I made so many connections,” she said. “My mind was so opened up, it was unbelievable. I don’t ever want to stop learning.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.