Elizabeth Church '78 and Emily Hadley '15, embarking on new educational pursuits

November 30, 2011
A passion for activism


Separate paths, united purpose:: Hadley, left, made the decision to come to Duke after Church had already applied to the School of Nursing. Megan Morr

As late-risers amble into the divinity school's Refectory Café for midmorning breakfast, first-year students Emily Hadley and Elizabeth Church compare notes about acclimating to the rhythms of the fall semester—navigating the quickest routes to class, reflecting on course choices, sharing details about college life. Yet the pair has a bond that transcends those associated with the typical adjustment to Duke—they are mother and daughter.

Hadley, a freshman from Plainfield, New Hampshire, decided on Duke because it promised the academic rigor she'd thrived on at Phillips Exeter Academy, and she liked the "sense of camaraderie" among undergraduate students. She has enrolled in the Focus program's "Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship" cluster, volunteers in a Durham elementary school as a reading tutor, and hopes to participate in DukeEngage and other service opportunities.

What she didn't expect is that she'd be starting Duke at the same time as her mother, who this fall entered the Accelerated Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at the School of Nursing. Church initially came to Duke in 1976 as a transfer student from Skidmore College. After graduating with a major in French literature, she built a career as an architect, managing projects ranging from custom residences to large urban developments, and raising two daughters. But the ripples of the 2008 economic downturn hit her profession hard, and she was laid off in 2009.

She spent the next year grappling with what the next chapter of her life would be. "I realized that by the time the architecture field rebounded, it would be a young person's profession, and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do for the next twenty to twenty-five years of my life. Watching Emily making choices about her own life's path through the college decision process] was an inspiration to me."

A breast-cancer survivor, Church recognized that the growing health-care field would allow her to exercise multiple skills and interests, and she took online courses in microbiology, statistics, anatomy, and physiology in preparation for applying to accelerated bachelor of nursing programs. She also volunteered at a local hospice and served as a crisis advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Duke's School of Nursing ABSN program appealed to Church because of its national reputation, as well as its location in the Triangle, where she plans to retire eventually. She says her decision to relocate from her former home in New Hampshire was made independently from Emily's decision to come to Duke. "Emily went to Exeter when she was fourteen, so we were used to being apart. I told her that I was moving [to North Carolina] regardless of where she decided to go. It's just serendipitous that we are both here simultaneously."

The two have already attended a musical performance together, but neither expects that their independent pursuits will allow them much time together beyond the occasional coffee or concert. "Emily and I have made a deal that if I see her walking on campus I won't say anything unless she waves to me first," says Church.

And with that, Church prepares to walk to her class at the School of Nursing, while Hadley checks her schedule for the starting time of a documentary-photography reception later that day. They hug and part ways, disappearing into the streams of students heading in different directions.