When Venita Murray crossed the Auditorium Theatre stage for her college diploma in December, her favorite Roosevelt University professor, Jin-Ah Kim, was there to cheer.
An associate professor of early childhood education, Kim understood the significance of the moment for Murray, for Kim, too, had lost her mother to cancer at a key juncture.
“I’m open with my students about my life and the difficulties I faced in caring for my mother,” said Kim, who put off applying for tenure at Roosevelt, which the professor has since received, until after her mother died in May following an 11-plus-year battle with cancer.
Murray, of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, also was the chief caretaker for her mother, who died of lung cancer in November while Murray was struggling to finish and graduate from Roosevelt.
“When Professor Kim talked to us in class about the challenges she faced in caring for her mother, I could relate,” said Murray, who thanked Kim after class for encouraging students “to make your own way,” no matter the obstacle or setback.
“There were so many times I wanted to quit, and my mother kept telling me ‘no’,” said Murray, who divided her time this fall doing homework and caring for her dying mother. “I was working around the clock and just kept wondering ‘Can I hold this together?’”
Kim, who had just had the experience of losing her mother, kept encouraging the Roosevelt student to keep putting one foot in front of the other. “I remember telling her ‘This is life. You need to talk about it so you can get on with your own hopes and dreams.”
On Dec. 9, approximately one month after her mother died, Murray received her diploma during a bittersweet Commencement that her mother was supposed to attend.
“My mother had been telling me for years to seek the highest level of education that I could, and it was difficult crossing the stage without her there,” said Murray, who will begin work in the spring on a master’s degree in Human Resource Management at Roosevelt.
“Professor Kim listened to me when I needed it and gave me advice that boosted my self-esteem and helped me to see that I’m capable of doing anything I put my mind to,” said Murray. “For that, I will always be grateful.”