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Graduation Day

Mother and daughter walk down this aisle together

Each graduation is an epic, bursting with stories of human aspiration, frustration, perseverance and sweat. Here are two, intertwined.
    Dawn Rasmussen and her daughter Courtney Stewart shared the Anne Arundel Community College stage on May 24. At 19 and just two years out of high school, Courtney had the easier journey to commencement, with her mother and grandmother pushing and cheering her all the way.
    At 45, Dawn, a single mother of three, walked a harder road. She earned her Associates Degree over six years of living on four or five hours of sleep, always loaded with books in hopes of squeezing in five minutes of reading.
    All those years, a goal motivated her.
    In 2006, she had just escaped an abusive relationship. Working as a secretary for Anne Arundel County to support three kids, then 13, 10 and one, she realized she’d have to do still more. Without a degree, she wouldn’t be able to move up. So she resolved to get her degree — no matter what.
    Day school was out of the question; Even night school was out of budget with three kids and babysitters charging $15 an hour and up. So Rasmussen took most of her classes online, attending via computer between 10pm to 2am.
    Over the years, routine replaced apprehension. “You just get used to going to school,” Rasmussen said. That and her goal kept her going.
    When Stewart followed her mother to Anne Arundel Community College, they sometimes took the same classes to save on books.
    Studying together added support and a bit of levity. Mother and daughter got together for a standing weekly night of study, jokes and gossip. The sessions were scheduled to end with a weekly reward: watching Jersey Shore.
    “We both understand the pressure the other is under with classes and graduating,” Stewart said. “And we have the opportunity to help each other out.”
    Mother and daughter continue their partnership this fall at the University of Maryland. Stewart will study criminal justice, Rasmussen legal studies. As a paralegal, she plans to advocate for victims of domestic violence.
     “I wanted to accomplish what I started and to know I could do it,” Rasmussen said. She has, with honors, as both mother and daughter graduate as members of the honor society.