By Amanda L. Alaniz
Rio Grande Valley, TEXAS – Lilly Elliott, a Pharr native, since high school has been envisioning graduating at the same time as her mother.
Her mother, Lilia Vidaurri, was earning her bachelor’s degree while Elliott was in high school. She thought if she timed it correctly, they could both earn their diplomas at the same time and she could cross it off her bucket list.
It didn’t happen. But, let’s fast forward a few years.
Elliott now is earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UTRGV, while her mother is earning a master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling from UTRGV.
They finally are graduating at the same time, during UTRGV’s virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 30.
“I was super excited,” Elliott said, smiling broadly. “I was ready for it to happen. It was something I had been planning for years and it finally fell into place. Then, the pandemic happened. But it’s OK.”
The mother-daughter duo was looking forward to the graduation ceremony and being able to share the memorable day as each walked across the stage to accept their diplomas. But the fact that they have completed their journeys together is enough for them.
Vidaurri said she considers her daughter to be her best friend.
“It’s truly amazing getting to share this with her. She’s my favorite person,” she said with a smile. “I think the experience of getting to do this together brought us closer, we have a stronger bond because of it. I learn from her every single day, since she was little, I’ve always learned from her. Because she’s an amazing person.”
Elliott also saw the value of education. She knew to graduate high school, then college would be achievements that could open doors and grant new opportunities.
“I grew up seeing firsthand how much getting an education changes your living situation and how, over time, things get better the more educated you are. So, that was always something I had in mind – to graduate high school, go to college, and have these opportunities,” she said. “I’ve tried to take as much from life as I could to build a solid foundation for the rest of my life.”
For her mother, getting a master’s degree was about following her passion and furthering her career. She works in the rehabilitation counseling services field and saw a master’s degree as the next step.
She certainly shared her daughter’s sentiments when she started her college career, she said, but now, it’s about growing within her line of work.
“It is on the path for doing a Ph.D., and that is my ultimate goal. And it’s following my passion, helping people through counseling,” she said. “But at the beginning, as a parent, I needed to provide a better environment for my daughter and set a better example for her.”
The duo may be getting their degrees in different fields, but they have helped and supported each other throughout their college careers. Mom calls her daughter her “IT person.” Whenever they had questions, they would ask each other for their opinions.
“I look up to you a lot,” Elliott told her mom. “You don’t even know.”
Supporting each other has been a long-lasting theme for mother and daughter. Elliott recalled when she was in middle school, watching as her mother started college. Her mom would go to their office room to study, while she finished her homework and watched TV.
“Those were the small sacrifices. Knowing your kid is in junior high, she’s still a kid, she’s sitting in the living room. You know she’s done with everything because that’s the way this one was and you can’t be with her,” Vidaurri said. “I couldn’t be with her. Those were the sacrifices. I think now, we’re seeing the results of all that sacrifice.”
Her goal was always to provide a good life for her daughter, to set an example. She wanted not only to tell her daughter, but also to show her what she can do in life.
“I want her to have the tools that she needs to be able to provide, for her kids, a better life,” Vidaurri said. “Not that hers was bad, but it can be much better for them – at least without the struggle of knowing that you’re in the next room and you can’t go sit with her to watch cartoons.
“It’s those little sacrifices I am trying to avoid her going through with her kids. And knowing that, as a woman, she won’t have to depend on anyone. She’ll be able to stand on her own two feet and know she’s got this,” Vidaurri said.
Indeed, Elliott has “got this.” She starts grad school at UTRGV in the fall. She had applied for the Agricultural, Environmental and Sustainability Sciences program and was accepted.
Her mom is working on the application for the rehabilitation counseling Ph.D. program.
“We have to be on the same level. You can’t beat me,” Elliott told her mom.
Vidaurri just smiled. “So competitive,” she said with pride.
Mom and daughter may not be able to attend a traditional ceremony, but they have been thinking of creative ways to celebrate the day.
“We could have a Zoom party,” Elliott suggested.
“Yeah. That’s where we are going, just like everyone else,” her mom agreed. “We’re going to do a Zoom thing.”