Like mother, like daughter.
Today, Anita Wideman and her daughter, Kristen Wideman, share more than DNA and the same last name: they are graduates and alumni of USC Aiken both with Bachelor of Science degrees in exercise and sports science. Anita's concentration is in fitness management; Kristen's concentration is in allied health.
And it's all in time for Mother's Day on Sunday.
The Widemans are two of 447 students who received bachelor's or master's degrees Wednesday during commencement exercises for May and August graduates. University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, who will retire Aug. 1, addressed the graduates.
Anita worked as a patient care tech at a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and had started taking classes toward a degree before her family moved to Aiken nine years ago.
When Kristen finished high school in 2014 and enrolled at USCA, through a gift from her grandfather, Anita said she “really started applying herself to finish that degree.”
“It was always important to me as a mom to set an example for my children. Once you start something, you finish it,” Anita said. “When Kristen started college, I really put the hammer to the nail and started to take classes.”
Mother and daughter often took classes together, studied for quizzes together, shared notes and bounced questions off one other. They each had different approaches to learning, but their styles were complementary, not competitive, they said.
“She's smart. I can't compare to her,” Anita said, smiling at Kristen.
Kristen said she had a definitive answer to other students who sometimes asked if having her mom in class was awkward: No.
“To me, it wasn't. It was actually really fun,” Kristen said.
“The teachers enjoyed having us. The other students referred to me as Mom,” Anita said and laughed. “They didn't feel it was awkward. I tried to fit in. If someone forgot a pencil, well, Mom's here in the classroom with an extra.”
Anita said, too, it was important to her not to “intrude” on Kristen's college experience.
“This was her time. I didn't want to overshadow her,” she said. “I wanted her to be a student, but it just worked out that if we took classes together, we sat together.”
Anita plans to study to be a certified exercise physiologist, allowing her to continue working with cardiac rehab patients, an extension of the work she did in St. Louis.
Kristen plans to take some time off before returning to school to become either a physical therapist assistant or an occupational therapist assistant.
Both mother and daughter agreed the best part of college was being together.
“It was awesome always having someone there on my side,” Kristen said. “I love it.”
“The best part was just having her around,” Anita said. “She's a joy. She's a smile on my face. I'm very proud of her, and we did it together.”
Pastides told the graduates that at the end of the ceremony he would have conferred 5,470 degrees to USCA students during his 11 years as president of the University of South Carolina.
“That's a lot of impact,” he said.
He said that after the last spring commencement at USC Columbia on Saturday afternoon he will have conferred 117,662 degrees during 181 commencements.
Pastides offered the graduates a blueprint for life that he, too, follows.
“Set specific goals and work with excellence to achieve them. Be a critical and independent thinker. Develop resilience. Keep a positive attitude, and take good care of yourself,” he said. “This blueprint has been instrumental to my own success, and I guarantee it will be as useful for you.”
USCA's class of 2019 has the highest number of veterans and military service men and women in recent history, according to the university.
Specifically, 19 percent of the class, 78 graduates, are veterans or military members, and 75 percent of them, 63 graduates, were inducted into the Veterans Honor Society.
Veterans either currently wear a uniform or have ever worn a uniform; military members are family members, including spouses and children of anyone who has ever worn a uniform.
By the numbers, USCA's class of 2019 is as follows:
• Number of degrees awarded, 447
• Number of graduate degrees awarded, 36
• Number of international graduates, 17
• Number of student athletes, 23
• Number of graduates from Aiken, 93
• Number of graduates from South Carolina, 390
• Number of veterans or military students, 25.
During the ceremony, USCA Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan recognized faculty members who received awards for their outstanding contributions and achievements. They are as follows:
• Dr. Nancy Stark, Excellence in Teaching Award
• Dr. Sanela Porca, Community Service Award
• Dr. Edward Callen, University Service Award
• Dr. Jeremy Culler, Excellence in Advisement Award
• Dr. Todd Hagstette, Scholarly Activity Award
• Professor Barbara Laura, Part-time Faculty Teaching Award.
Jordan also recognized faculty members retiring this year, Dr. Victor Duran, Dr. Charmaine Wilson and Professor Vicki Collins.
Kristin Medlin, the president of the USCA Alumni Association, recognized Allison Swiecki, the 2019 Outstanding Senior Student Award winner. Swiecki, whom Medlin called “a super star in our biology department,” plans to attend graduate school at the University of Utah.