Like Mother, Like Daughter

For the first time in recent memory, a mother and a daughter will graduate from Emory on the same day. The Silversteins have made Emory a family affair.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

Debbie Silverstein 78C 83N 18N 20N (right) presents an Emory Legacy medal to her daughter Hayley Silverstein 18C.

Legacies are a special group at Emory. Students follow in their siblings' or parents' footsteps, creating a family tradition. On the Saturday of Commencement Week 2018, the Glenn Memorial Church pews were filled with more than 100 families celebrating just that.

What’s a bit more rare is a parent and a child graduating at the same time, but that is exactly what Debbie Silverstein 78C 83N 18N 20N and her daughter Hayley Silverstein 18C will be doing. Both women completed their coursework in December and will walk across the Quad on Monday morning.

The Silversteins have a long history with Emory. Debbie, a native of Cleveland, Ohio chose Emory for her undergraduate degree because it was just under the 500 mile radius her parents set as her geographical limits for heading off to college. The respite from the winter weather was another big selling point during her first visit on a February afternoon. “It was a fluky thing, but it was 80 degrees,” says Debbie. “We saw people sunbathing and I was like ‘well I’m going to Emory.’”

Debbie Silverstein

Debbie Silverstein on her first Emory graduation day in 1978.

Over the following years, after a brief stint in Florida to earn a Master’s in social work, Debbie returned to Emory to earn a nursing degree. She met her husband Mark when he was doing his residency at Grady. They spent a few years in the New York area, but Atlanta and Emory were always home and they settled into a neighborhood about a mile from campus. Soon after, Jake, now 24, and twins Kevin and Hayley, now 21, arrived.

“It feels like Emory has been home, my life, from when I was in kindergarten to college graduation” says Hayley, who attended preschool at the Glenn School and went back recently to take her graduation photos. She went to Emory camps in the summer and attended the pre-college program when she was in high school.

About three years ago, Debbie started thinking about school again. “I was just watching the kids growing up,” says Debbie. “I always enjoyed being in school, took a very long maternity leave and I still felt like there was something left for me to do.” And, before long, she found herself back in the Emory School of Nursing working on her Master's and her soon to be completed Doctorate.

The women have loved being in school together even though their paths didn’t cross daily.

“She's my mom but also my friend,” says Hayley. “I always had a sense of community at Emory with my friends, but having my mom there felt extra special, like a little more love in a way, and just safer.”

On her end, Debbie loved having Hayley close to home not only for the comradery, but also for the help with the technological challenges, which she has found to be her steepest learning curve. 

“We didn't have computers when I was in school,” says Debbie. “Even in graduate school we had those giants that we fed punch cards. When I worked at Grady we had one computer for the entire hospital. It took up two rooms and they had to keep it freezing cold. So it's another world.” 

Debbie is quick to add that she’s adapted, though. ”I still think it’s weird,” she says, adding that per the Emory Honor Code, in her undergraduate years, she could take her exams anywhere, including the Quad on a sunny day. “And that would never happen today.”

Whether on campus on or at home, the Silversteins are lifelong learners. “When we were little, she would read me Greek mythology and have a word of the day competition,” says Hayley who likens her mom to a Swiss Army knife because she does everything. “She's always telling me about books she's reading and she cuts out newspaper articles for me.”

“It's really inspiring just to see her keep moving on in life and learning, and not letting anyone hold her back,” says Hayley.

“You inspire me with all your hard work and made it seem like fun,” says Debbie mentioning a little plaque Hayley gave her before a school trip.

And then, Hayley adds, “It said, some superheroes wear capes mine wears scrubs and a stethoscope.”