DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Graduations always bring families together to celebrate, but a mother-daughter pair earning master’s degrees at UNT Dallas say doing the hard work together was wonderful as well.

“She is a rock star!” exclaims high school teacher and motivational speaker Tricia Patterson, while straightening her mother’s graduation mortarboard. “She is a straight rock star and I don’t mind!”​

You don’t need an advanced degree to see Patterson and her mother, Viola Caldwell, do life differently — and always have.

Tricia Patterson and Viola Caldwell (CBS 11)

Caldwell was a young, single mother when she moved to Texas with two small daughters to attend the old Bishop College, before it became Paul Quinn College. The family lived on campus.​

“I had my own ID badge. I had my back pack. I was a student on campus,” recalls Patterson with obvious delight. “People still recognize me and say, ‘Remember? We went to college together?’ and I’m like, ‘I was six! I did not go to college with you’!”

Both women dissolve into the easy laughter born of a lifetime of love and friendship.​

“School is what we do,” says Patterson. “Education is what we do.”​

So it was no surprise then when Caldwell, a retired nurse, grew tired of sitting still, she followed her daughter to UNT Dallas. They both earned master’s degrees in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The plan was for them to graduate together, but a car got in the way.​

“It’s really not funny,” warns Patterson in between chuckles. “It amazes me how blessed I am, and that I was hit by a car, as a pedestrian.”​

The crash slowed her pace, but she did not abandon her dream. Patterson is earning her degree this spring. Caldwell graduated in December.​

“It was not the same,” admits Caldwell. “Something was missing.  What it was, I wasn’t quite sure,” her voice trails in an obvious slow pitch to her quick-witted daughter who immediately takes the bait and responds, “You were missing your baby!” And again, the laughter comes quick, easy and genuine.​

Patterson says she refused to allow her mom to wait for her, so they could graduate together.​

“That would not have set well with me for her to wait,” says Patterson, suddenly serious. “She earned it. So girl, you go get it. and we’ll celebrate in the spring.”​

After a double dose of celebrations– and maybe a brain break– Patterson will no doubt be hard at work.

Last year she launched a nonprofit to help at risk youth with life and work readiness skills. Both graduates say they are eager to use those degrees to help the community in the area of mental health.​

“There’s so much miseducation about it– that was a key factor for me,” admits Caldwell when asked how she planned to use her degree. “To me this is a whole new career, a whole new beginning .”​

The mother, nurse and student is also a motivator to those who simply watch her “go-get-it” approach to life. So her daughter doesn’t hesitate to share her, or the joy.​

“I share her with my cousins, I share her with my classmates,” says Patterson. “If some time with her will give you what you need to get you through to your next place? Then get all that you need, because I’ve had a lifetime.”​

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