Sparks family

Britton and John Spark, whose story is told in the right sidebar, will both be participating in Commencement 2010.

Photo courtesy of: The Sparks family

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All in the family

For the seniors of Ohio University, graduation is a time a great excitement. It is a chance to start a new chapter of their lives.  Many have probably already planned out which friends they want to sit next to for the ceremony. But two graduating seniors will be sitting side-by-side with their moms.

Barbara and Rachel Toney are a dynamic mother-daughter duo, set to graduate from Ohio University Southern (OUS) this weekend, both with degrees in nursing. What makes this pair even more unique is that, before they were students together at OUS, Barbara was Rachel’s teacher, homeschooling her two children.
“Home schooling worked very well for us and allowed us to tailor her education to her interests,” Barbara said. “The transition to college went smoothly and she has made the Dean’s List before.”

When the pair first started college, Rachel had plans of starting her own business—a bakery or possibly catering—and was planning on a business degree. Barbara had taken some free computer classes at Workforce Development where she met the program manager, Bill King. Through career and personality testing, King pointed out that nursing could be a good choice for Barbara.

“I saw it as an opportunity to serve others, which I love to do, and provide for a secure future for my family,” Barbara said. 
At first, Barbara was uneasy about starting college, and wasn’t sure what it would be like to be a freshman with all the younger students.

“I told Rachel it would be social suicide to go to college with her mother,” Barbara said. “She assured me that she had no problems with it, and I was pleased to find students of all ages attending college.”

The two women started on basic classes, sharing books and transportation, and helping each other with studies. They both enjoyed the sense of accomplishment of doing well in college.

Rachel was given the opportunity to try what she enjoyed the most—decorating cakes at a bakery. She did well at the bakery, but the physical aspects of the work took a toll on Rachel, and she and Barbara decided to take another look at the nursing program.

“We decided if we could get accepted, we would give it a try,” Barbara said. “We were so thrilled to get our acceptance letters! We were on our way.”

After working through classes like chemistry, algebra and anatomy and physiology, the women thought nursing couldn’t be any more difficult than what they had already been through—but they quickly found that to be untrue. It was a new challenge, and both determined were to see it through.

“When we look back at the struggles and challenges, it was helpful to have each other,” Barbara said. “We laugh at how different our approach to studying is. She is so proficient, organized, and great at multi-tasking, that she could do assignments, listen to music and IM friends on her computer at the same time. But I had to have complete silence, which was nearly impossible at our house, so I found a way to study that worked great for me—I would put on a soundproof set of ear-muffs.”

As for future plans, Rachel has a job lined up with Kings Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Ohio and Barbara is still exploring possibilities. Both women plan to continue their education as opportunity allows.

“I would like to encourage anyone who has thought about continuing their education to not let any obstacle prevent them from pursuing their dream,” Barbara said. “Our college experience has greatly enriched our lives and prepared us for a bright and secure future.”

For Ahmed Elmahdi and his mother, Hadia Sulaiman, who will graduate this weekend in the Athens campus ceremony, the path to Ohio University has been a bit different.

“My mother and I came to OU in 2007 from New York when my father began working in the Department of African studies here,” Elmahdi said. “It has always been in our character to have our family close together, so I elected to move with my family to Athens and transfer to OU.”

Elmahdi studied political science and pre-law, while his mother majored in international studies focusing on Africa.

“I actually graduated back in November,” Elmahdi said, “but I wanted to walk with my mother so I put off my commencement ceremony.”

Elmahdi and his mother have both enjoyed their time at Ohio University. Elmahdi said that what he enjoyed most about Athens is its natural surroundings and location, and the quiet atmosphere of the town that has let him focus on his studies.

“I've always felt that my mother and father sacrificed a lot to get me where I am now, my mother especially,” Elmahdi said. “She put off her own education in order to work to give me what I needed to succeed. That is why I'm so proud of my mother for overcoming so many difficulties and making it to this very important milestone.”

Elmahdi has been working since November overseas in Sudan, teaching English at an all-women university. Sulaiman hopes to continue her education in the future.

Class of 1970 graduate walks with son

One alumnus from the class off 1970 who will enjoy the Alumni Association's Commencement gathering is John R. Spark, who majored in architecture and business during his time at OHIO.

John will have the opportunity to walk with his son, Britton Spark, at his son's graduation at 9:30 a.m. and again with the class of 1970 at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

"Since I was a freshman here at Ohio University I knew I wanted my dad to walk with me at commencement. We talked about it, but it was not until senior year that we started making plans for it to happen. I started 40 years to the day that my father started college. I feel in love with Ohio University like he did and now graduating with him is an unreal experience," said Britton, who is interactive multimedia and digital media double major.