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Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - 10:30am

Mercy’s 84th Commencement Exercises in May were doubly meaningful for one Mount Vernon family. Longtime Mercy employee Sharon Garrant ‘16 earned a master’s degree in public administration and her daughter, Joyia Garrant, earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“Mercy is our school,” asserted Joyia Garrant. “Mercy is heritage and legacy for us now.”

The path to this momentous commencement began 15 years ago when Sharon accepted a job as an administrative assistant in Mercy’s nursing program. Within a couple of years, she moved to a similar position within the physical therapy department, where she still works today.

After a time, she decided that she wanted to finish her undergraduate degree. “I wanted better for myself and for my family, and I knew that education was the way to get there,” she explained. Through Mercy’s Executive Development and Growth Experience (EDGE) program, an accredited degree completion program for working adults, Sharon was able to earn academic credits for both her work and life experiences.

As her first day of classes at Mercy approached, Sharon felt apprehensive about being a nontraditional student. “I was so frightened that I was going to be the slowest one. But after my first class, I knew that I could do it,” she recalled.

There were certainly challenges along the way. “In the beginning, I struggled with math. My daughter, Joyia, would help me with my homework. When I found myself falling behind in class, I got a tutor. Every single day, I would eat lunch at my tutor’s desk until I understood the concepts,” Sharon said. Two years after her first class, she earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational management.

Sharon is one of more than 500 alumni who work for Mercy across the College’s campuses, which demonstrates how alumni are highly motivated to return to Mercy and advance its mission.

Next, Sharon set her sights on a master’s degree. One of her most steadfast supporters was Dr. Nannette Hyland, director of Mercy’s physical therapy program, and Sharon’s work supervisor. “Nan encouraged me to get my master’s degree,” explained Sharon. “She helped me fit classes into my schedule, assuring me that we'd figure out how I could make up the time. She even helped me fit in a required 240-hour externship.” In May, Sharon earned a master’s in public administration.

In the meantime, Sharon’s daughter Joyia had also found her way to Mercy. Accepted to 13 colleges, Joyia Garrant admits that her indecisiveness got the better of her. “I visited a few schools, and I couldn’t see myself at any of them. My mom said, ‘You should think about Mercy.’ But I didn’t want to go to Mercy. My mom has worked at Mercy for most of my life, so I grew up here in a way. I wanted something different, something new,” she said.

As high school graduation approached, however, Joyia knew that she had to make a move if she wanted to go to college in the fall. Within weeks, she applied to Mercy, received her acceptance letter and enrolled. Now she is the first to admit that attending Mercy was the best decision for her. “It turns out that this is where I should have been the entire time. It was difficult for me to see because Mercy always felt like home, and I wanted to get away from home. But it’s truly where I was supposed to be,” she enthused.

Like her mother, Joyia had to rise above challenges. “In my first semester, I really struggled,” she explained. “I just felt like I didn't fit in. In my own way, I was fearful to be my best self and really shine.” Sharon encouraged her to get an on-campus job, so Joyia began working in the admissions office. “Once I started working in admissions, I started to open up and blossom,” Joyia said. She came to love it so much that she continued to work in the admissions office for the remainder of her schooling. Sharon’s presence was central to Joyia’s success as well. “My mom has been a fixture in my life and a fixture in my educational journey at Mercy,” she said.

In May, Joyia graduated in the top third of her class and was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society. “I shone brightly at Mercy, which wasn't something I always did in high school,” she reflected.

Sharon and Joyia both credit their family and their support systems for their success. And, they describe their accomplishments as not only the product of their own efforts, but also the efforts of family members who came before them. As Joyia put it, “Graduation wasn’t just celebrating me. It was for my family. It was for my mom and dad who sacrificed so much to enable me to graduate. It was for my grandparents who never had the opportunity to go to college and for their parents who probably didn't even finish high school.”

There are clearly great things ahead for both Sharon and Joyia. Joyia recently passed her nursing licensure exam and plans to pursue a master’s degree. Though she loves her current position, Sharon is exploring her career options. She explained, “I would be shorting myself and all my supporters if I didn't look forward.”

Garrant photo updated