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June 2012
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Like Daughter; Like Mother

by Amy Elizabeth Otto

On May 19 and 20, 2012, a proud cohort of women and men strode across the stage of The O'Shaughnessy Auditorium. They received handshakes and cheers from their families and friends as their hard work was acknowledged with degrees from St. Catherine University.

Some students had traveled around the world to study at St. Kate's, and some came just across town. Some completed their studies in months or years, and others labored toward graduation for decades.

Two of these May graduates stand out because of their connection to each other and the way they represent the stories of so many students at St. Kate's. They are Naomi and Emelie (pronounced "Ah-MEEL-ya") Mohammed, both of whom earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in the University's communication studies program. Naomi and Emelie are also mother and daughter.

Emelie enrolled at St. Kate's in 2007 right after high school. "Everybody I talked to — especially my teachers — said, ‘Oh, yes! You'll fit in there right away,'" she says. "I've got the sassy, I-want-to-question attitude, and I think that's what a lot of people see when they think about St. Kate's."

Naomi's path to St. Kate's was more circuitous. She went to a technical college after high school but wasn't able to pursue a four-year degree until later in life. Aside from a few years when she lived in Grand Cayman, where she met Emelie's father, Naomi has lived her life in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. She still lives with four of her five children about three blocks from where she grew up, and she has worked at the neighborhood hardware store for 25 years.

After beginning work toward an associate's degree at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), Naomi started to think about attending St. Kate's herself. She saw the positive impact the University had on Emelie.

"It was interesting to watch her," Naomi says. "From the day she walked on campus, she just grew in confidence and in her own person."

A visit to the St. Paul campus cemented Naomi's decision. "I came here to deal with something for Emelie in the business office at Derham Hall," she recalls. "I touched the handle on the door, and I immediately thought, ‘This is where I should be. I should be here.'"

Naomi completed her two-year degree at MCTC and then enrolled in St. Catherine's Evening/Weekend/Online program in fall 2009.

Neither Naomi nor Emelie arrived at the University with the intention of declaring a major in communication studies, but both found that communication topics and issues captured their interests. "Communication is alive and it changes," Naomi says. "It seemed to be a better fit for me than any of the other majors."

Emelie completed all of her requirements for graduation in fall 2011, but Naomi needed this past winter semester to finish her degree. St. Kate's allowed Emelie to defer her commencement to May so she could share the experience with her mother.

"My mom is someone I've always been really proud to be associated with," Emelie says. "She's been busting her tail for a long time to graduate, and then it turns out that we can walk together. How cool is that?"

Emelie and Naomi are not the first mother-daughter pair who graduated together from St. Catherine, but their journey has been both unusual and unlikely. "We're from south Minneapolis, and we're financially challenged, and my mom is a single mom with a bunch of kids," Emelie says. "All of those things have contributed to make us unique for being who we are."

This likely wasn't the last St. Kate's commencement they'll attend. Another of Naomi's daughters, Abigail, graduated from high school this year and has been accepted at the University for this fall. "St. Kate's," Naomi laughs, "has room for all of us."


Emelie Mohammed '12 and mother, Naomi Mohammed '12