For parents, seeing their children grow up and enter college is a source of pride, but, for some, the letting go part can be tough. Natasha Smith-Patterson found a way around that. Rather than send her daughter off to college, she went with her.
This week, Smith-Patterson and her first-born child, Kalani Patterson, will graduate together from California State University, Dominguez Hills with degrees in sociology –a master’s and a bachelor’s, respectively.
In 2006, with the responsibility of running her own day care service in Long Beach and raising her then-infant and youngest child, TaTen’e, Smith-Patterson hoped to persuade her college-bound daughter to attend a university close to home. Patterson, who was an honors student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where her mom attended 25 years earlier, had been accepted to California Baptist University in Riverside, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Long Beach, and CSU San Jose, and after careful consideration, she decided on CSU Dominguez Hills. A mother’s wish (and plan) had been fulfilled.
Thinking back, Patterson said she hadn’t fully thought through being in college with her mom.
“Before I knew it, she was enrolled with me. I was like, no, mom, no,” said Patterson. “I was embarrassed the first year, then I got used to it. And now, our last year together, I really brag about it.”
The two helped each other out by studying together, but Patterson, who had to answer to her mom if she missed classes, tried to keep her performance high without her mom’s help. She said at times it seemed as though her mom had more focus because she had the advantage of maturity, motivation and experience.
“I try to keep my GPA up, but it’s harder for me … because I’m young. But I still keep my grades up and get it done,” said Patterson, 23.
Smith-Patterson, who has been a licensed child-care provider for 23 years, earned an associate’s degree in child development from Compton Community College in 1988 when Kalani was just six weeks old—during that commencement Kalani sat on Smith-Patterson’s lap. Joining her daughter at CSU Dominguez Hills in fall 2006, she chose to pursue a bachelor’s in recreation administration and leisure studies because it was the closest field to child development that the university offered at the time (CSU Dominguez Hills now has a program in child development). She embraced her return to college, getting involved and even serving as president for the CSU Dominguez Hills Recreation Club. She was recognized with the club’s Outstanding Service and Galaxy Awards.
It wasn’t long after completing her bachelor’s degree in 2008 that Smith-Patterson set her sights on an advanced degree in sociology. She said that as a “helping profession,” sociology seemed the perfect choice because it would allow her options in so many related fields. For her daughter, the decision wasn’t as easy.
Patterson started out thinking she may want to study liberal arts and become a teacher, but after watching the TV show “Scared Straight” Patterson decided she wanted to work in a correctional facility or as a youth probation officer to help troubled adolescents straighten out their lives. Her mom made the appeal that a degree in sociology would provide many careers options, including criminology. That was all it took to convince Patterson.
Once in the program, Patterson took Gangs and Adolescent Subcultures (SOC 362), a class taught by assistant professor of sociology La Tanya Skiffer that explored the reasons why gangs exist and how adolescents fit into the gang culture. That fit perfectly into Patterson’s career goals and it confirmed that she had found the major that was right for her.
With a clear picture of what she wants to do and a degree soon to be in her hand, Patterson is already feeling good about her future, and about the role her mother has played in her life.
“I love my mom and I feel like she helped me be successful. I didn’t grow up in a household with a dad. So my mom played mom, dad, grandpa, grandma,” said Patterson.
But they are more than family. Patterson and her mom, whose birthdays are only one day apart, talk on the phone several times a day, they socialize and study together, they get on each other’s nerves, and they have minor tiffs with each other, which are quickly and easily forgotten—just like best friends.
But moms are moms, and Smith-Patterson is unapologetic about the level of her interaction when it comes to watching out for her daughter’s best interests. When she wants to go to her daughter’s professors to talk about grades, her daughter handles it by telling her, “Mom, this is college, you can’t do that. They won’t disclose that information to you.”
Once again, on Friday, May 18, the two will attend commencement together, but this time—a long time since Patterson was a six-week-old baby on her mother’s lap—they will both walk. Separated only by their respective undergraduate and graduate status, together they will receive their diplomas in the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences commencement ceremony held at the Home Depot Center Tennis Stadium.
Smith-Patterson has three other children. Her son, Darrell, Jr., is a sophomore at CSU Long Beach, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s in environmental science and policy. Her third-born child, Kaleah, is a freshman at San Diego State University majoring in public administration. Her third grader, TaTen’e, is on the honor roll at her elementary school.